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LETTER: 'Cruel behaviour spills into water, poisons the air and destroys the land,' Rama man warns

Rama First Nation artist/grandfather uses a 'dialogue with the conscious to the unconscious' to speak about the experiences of his people
2021-09-30 Rama Truth and Rec 5
This work by Rama artist Paul Shilling can be found along the pathway that was recently unveiled in Rama.

OrilliaMatters welcomes letters to the editor ( This letter, from Paul Shilling, is written from the perspective of a survivor of the sixties scoop and foster system, a son of residential school survivors and elder of his people. It talks to the experiences of his people in a dialogue of grandfather to grandson.

A dialogue with the conscious to the unconscious - of the spirit to the intellect – of the grandmothers and grandfathers to the child.

Child: How is life, Grandfather?

Grandfather: Life is good now. For most of my life I couldn’t image it being the way it is now.

Child: So, were you raised traditionally, and protected?

Grandfather: I was talking about my body, mind, spirit, and emotion. However, I am still a long way from the good life. My childhood was not so good. I am the youngest of 13 children. My experiences seem to tell me that 13 is an unlucky number.

Child: Unlucky? Why?

Grandfather: I learned this at a young age. I learned how to be superstitious in the mind. In the spirit I am old – much older than my 68 years. I know this because my vision is clear, though my eyes are getting dim. I learned to uncover and follow my inner spirit, which knows the way.

Child: Tell me something about the four colours.

Grandfather: All my relations: Red, Black, White, Yellow. All these peoples are beautiful. Extraordinary.

Child: Grandfather. Why are the different peoples so cruel to each other?

Grandfather: Every human being – man and woman – inside, have a beautiful and remarkable spirit. In the beginning we all had our instructions how we should be in this world; how we should relate to the other beings around us, human, plant and animal. Humans have strayed far away from this path.

People have ripped each other apart for power and control. In doing this, we expose an illness that we have acquired. We pass this illness on to other nations, other peoples, and other societies around the world. This careless, cruel behaviour spills into the waters, poisons the air, and destroys the land. In the old days, we were raised to know and be in our responsibilities. We had responsibility built into our lives. This was replaced by entitlement and greed profit.

Child: When did this change? Why are the people disturbed?

Grandfather: The colonizers lost their way many hundreds of years before we first saw them. They decided their need to consume resources was more important than the need to sustain them for future generations. We did not see this, so we were to be “educated” in their ways. We were to become good consumers.

Child: Were we broken? Were we, the people, a mistake Grandfather?

Grandfather: You ask what was wrong with us. Nothing was, or is, wrong with us. This residential school and foster system has been used to steal our culture and our essence. To cover our spirit with blankets – blankets of shame and fear, making us much easier to control.

What happened was not a mistake, it was an act of purposeful violence and injustice. The government of the colonials could not gain their power until our essence was corrupted. It was behaviour that can only come from a people who do not know themselves. A people who do not see that the four colours are connected in one circle. A people who do not know that land, air, water, are not for personal gain, but for the good of all. Many are broken and lost and sick with greed and only see us for what they can gain.

Child: Why? How could they have done this to our people?

Grandfather: They did it in the name of “civilization” – in the name of a philosopher called Jesus. The wisdom he spoke lost its way long ago. The organization spent many hundreds of years covering its spirit with blankets of control and power and lost the essence of his teachings. The universal law says all people are beautiful. It is only because of denial of the natural law and teachings that generations of people of all colours were persecuted, destroyed, murdered, and enslaved.

Child: What happened, Grandfather?

Grandfather: It pains me to tell you, but there are many, many stories like mine.

We were taken, often right from our mother’s arms, and driven to places far away to be made into “good Christian children.”

Child: How could this happen, Grandfather?

Grandfather: Hundreds of thousands of our people were kidnapped. We were told we were sinners. We were forbidden to speak our language or practise our traditions or even to wear our traditional clothing. We were a thorn in the side of greed, growth, and relentless consumption of the land and resources. Forbidden by the people who ran these “schools” who were paid by the colonial government to break us. Yet, I ask their leader, Pope Francis, “Who were the sinners?”

Child: Who are the sinners?

Grandfather: The sinners are those who treated children as criminals; who tied them up and left them to die; who starved them in the name of that philosopher, Jesus; who literally forced themselves on little children and then beat those children for crying in shame. The sinners are those who refuse to see and are still smug and satisfied that they did the right thing and blame our people for the trauma and generational displacement that we have lived with for three hundred years. They tell us, “Just get over it.”

I didn’t get that touch, that unspoken love of a mother. I didn’t get that support or teaching from a father. They were broken, as were their parents and the parents before them. What I got was more of the same pressure to lose my identity. How do I “just get over it?”

Child: So what did our people do?

Grandfather: We suffered and fell prey to their ministers and priests. We have allowed ourselves to believe we are shameful, so we do shameful things. We have fallen for the teachings that they, themselves, do not follow.

Some of this will stop when our people in Rama stop deliberately hurting each other. A lot of Christians in our own community seem to discourage our traditions, yet our traditions are the route to our salvation as a people. Reconciliation can only come after the truth is seen, acknowledged and spoken.

The power of the Catholic church, the largest manager of the holocaust of First Nations children, is such that it cannot permit even its own women into the circle of power. Women, who are responsible for the 8 billion peoples who inhabit this earth, are destroyed, banned, belittled, and prevented from being members.

Women. Giving birth to all human beings of all cultures. Birthed into incredible families, language, song, dance, preparation of foods. Ceremonies of giving thanks and appreciation for life, nurturing, and medicines of the earth. The most beautiful and fun ceremony of all is the sexual procreation – bringing the spirit into the Earth World. No one had a right to interfere with this culture, this teaching, this behaviour. It had nothing to do with God or Jesus. This is the crime. 

I might add that many religions are afraid of the power of woman. Yet, our culture – the Anishinaabe community – knew women are the life-givers. They are like the mother earth. This truth we knew. Unlike the Catholic model, we didn’t need to destroy women to be in control.

Child: I see. So reconciliation is first something we do in ourselves?

Grandfather: Yes. Knowing ourselves is the hardest thing to do, but it is the only way to truly move from this period of despair to a period of beauty. Reconciliation comes when we look at our own faults, fears, and assumptions. First, we look at ourselves, not point our fingers at others.

When we see and work with the truth, prejudice drops away. When we do, we learn that all people are extraordinary, have the same fears, knowledge, expectation, and dreams.

But if we all see this truth – if all the people realize that we have the knowledge within us to do the right things and care for the whole of the world – the powerful lose their power. And that, my son, they do not want to have happen.

Paul Shilling
Rama First Nation