This week’s #TeachingTuesday is being offered by Culturally Committed Mentor, Daniel Elliott of Stz’uminus First Nation. Last week Dan and I shared a few quiet moments talking about the hardened façade many men feel pressured to wear. Dan shared with me the connections to intergenerational trauma, and his journey of unlearning and releasing his protective exterior.
“Big boys don't cry, better toughen up!” So many men and boys clamber through life, seeing it through a hardened lens. When I reflect on the things that have happened to me, I recognize that I could have easily used my aggression and size to take what I wanted in life. My own existence has been a journey of self-discovery, which has influenced how I raised my own son and how I treat my daughter.
I have many memories from my upbringing; some happy, and some troubling. During my childhood, I was witness to alcohol, aggression, and violence in my home. It wasn’t all the time, but it was difficult nonetheless. I will be forever grateful to my mother, who did her best to shield us from the ugliness of alcoholism and addictions. My reprieve was the discovery of art. At the age of 13, I started painting and found that while I painted I could create altered states of consciousness. This discovery provided a refuge from the violence I was witnessing, thereby offering me a tool to cope.
My father sobered up in 1974 when I was 14, shortly before I left to boarding school in Alberta. At that time, I was happy to go. The newness of my father’s sobriety, coupled with the long history of unhealthy behaviour made me eager to move on to different surroundings. At boarding school, I began searching for what it meant to be a man. I started looking to others I could emulate. I was strong, quick and agile in my teens, and so used these physical attributes as a shield to intimidate others and garner respect.
As an adult, I used humour and dissociative behaviours to ramble through life. I threw myself into commercial fishing, painting, and working on raising a family. 1998 brought a huge shift for me, as commercial fishing industry was dwindling and I needed to shift gears. I hung up my boots and rain gear and went to Tillicum Le Lum Friendship Center to begin the Drug & Alcohol Counsellor training program. I later switch gears to the Sexual Abuse Family Violence Training Program. The teaching I received through these programs would prove to provide the guidance and direction I’d been seeking in others my entire life. This knowledge became foundational in my own healing journey and would dramatically influence the way in which I interacted with my children.
As I began to raise my family, I worked through patterns of parenting that I had learned in my childhood; some of which were not so good. These were the effects of intergenerational trauma. When my son required parental intervention, I found myself wanting to backhand him. One day, it dawned on me what I was doing: I stopped myself mid-air when I was about to strike him. The teachings I was receiving from Tillicum were shifting something deep within me. From that moment on I remember that I would say to my son, “I feel like giving you a smack, but I will not!" This was a powerful shift for me, and a break in the chain of lateral violence and intergenerational trauma.
As my career path evolved, I found myself working as the Native Prison Liaison at a local corrections centre; I began to realize that many men have rambled through life similarly. My experiences demonstrated to me there was a huge lack of teachings for many men; the same teachings that had been lacking for me in my upbringing. I started integrating sweat lodges and tipis into the offered healing practices. I recognized that we needed to teach about releasing our aggression and violence and embracing our power and strength; it was culture that helped heal so many men. Through cultural practices, we embrace the female energy within us and honour the women partners in our lives. Elder JC Lucas reinforces this teaching, saying that “how we treat women is how the world becomes”.
From 1994 until 2002 I coached lacrosse, football, and downhill skiing. I wasn't just after the wins or championships but how to win in life as a man. I wanted to become part of the solution rather than part of the problem. My son and daughter worked on the fishing boat for 10 years and in the fall and I coached them in through different sports. I will say as a father and to the fathers yet to come: find your healing, and spend as much time as possible with your children, because one day they will be gone, carrying a suitcase of what you did with them not so much of what you said to them."