I often say to whoever will listen that First Nations people need to be doubly-educated in this world. I believe a standard education is important but I also believe the only way to counter racism is to find pride in oneself and that means learning your culture, your history, your language -- essentially your identity, so you can be comfortable in your own skin and operate with good intentions and a peaceful heart regardless of what people initially think of you.
That means if you have devoted twenty years to your education through primary school, secondary school, and university, you owe it to your spirit, to your community and to future generations to devote an equal amount of time learning your roots, in order to establish a solid foundation. If that means another 20 years studying being Cree, Dene, Anishinabe, etc., it will be time well spent.
As a minority, if you lack either type of education, success in this world is difficult, if not impossible.
Those who are strong only in their culture find it hard to find employment and adequately support themselves or their family.
Those First Nations people who only learn a standard education, sacrificing cultural knowledge may suffer an identity crisis in later years. Many First Nations people who succeed career-wise eventually encounter racism and without that strong cultural backbone, they could suffer feelings of alienation and anger and maybe even develop addictions.
Of course, that’s just me speculating. However, one only needs to observe the total self-destruction of Senator Patrick Brazeau to see how such a possibility can easily become a probability.
I don’t personally know Senator Brazeau but I only had to read a few of his Twitter posts and learn of his actions to know that he does not have a strong cultural background.
He was charged with sexual assault, domestic assault and he made disparaging comments about Chief Theresa Spence’s weight following her hunger strike. He also publicly insulted a reporter by suggesting she replace the “d” with a “b” in her last name, Ditchburn out of fury that she reported his absenteeism in Senate. All of these actions reek of misogyny, an unsettled spirit and appear to be desperate flags for help.
Senator Brazeau also advocates for greater transparency with First Nations leaders and organizations, yet he is being investigated for claiming thousands of dollars in living expenses by lying about his primary residence.
There’s also the issue of the child support payments he neglected.
These hypocritical actions would likely not occur if he spent more time in ceremony, learning about humility, integrity, self-discipline and the necessity of placing community needs above your own. He would know these things because he would practice them.
Sure, he’s Anishinabe and I’m Cree. There are differences but we are more alike than not.
Cree people would probably never consider a 30-something-year-old an Elder, which is sort of what we expect from Canadian Senators: wisdom, guidance and a “sober second thought.”
Elders provide direction to leaders. Their roles are somewhat similar in that respect.
There are definitely young Elders (but not that young!) and it’s important to recognize that not all older First Nations people earn the title of Elder.
There is plenty of training involved and often Oskapiyosak, or Elder’s Helpers, eventually become Elders, following decades of instruction. They earn their title only after they have acquired the teachings necessary to sufficiently perform the duties of an Elder.
Senator Brazeau is young and seems cocky. He’s probably charismatic, which is likely what led Harper to appoint him in the first place. Maybe he even helped secure Conservative votes. Really, I’m not sure how he was selected because Senator Brazeau does not seem to be a very strong voice for Aboriginal people.
He criticized Idle No More and Chief Spence’s hunger strike, stating that these efforts were bad examples for Aboriginal youth.
I think Senator Brazeau needs some time to reflect on his own behavior and the example he’s setting for Aboriginal youth.
Some believe that recent events are the result of karma. I think it is all cause and effect, with the distinction being that we could all reasonably predict the outcome of his actions. It was just a matter of being caught. With karma, it is difficult to predict when someone will get a dose of their own behavior. But we can be reasonably certain that if people do not operate from a good, honest and respectful place, their actions will inevitably catch up to them.
In any case, I think Senator Brazeau could use this time to lean on his Anishinabe brothers and sisters to straighten his moral compass and to help get his life back in order. I think he needs them more than ever and if he approaches them I hope they accept him with open arms.
Make no mistake; Senator Brazeau is not the first Aboriginal person to rise to a powerful position only to have his wrongdoings exposed to the public. There have been many and there will likely be many more to come. So long as First Nations people learn in an unbalanced way, wholly accepting a standard education at the expense of their own teachings, their success and happiness will be equally lop-sided and we will continue to read more embarrassing accolades.