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Elder Talk: Exploring Identity (IRA1-V47)


This event recording features Elder Gerry Oleman of the St'at'imc Nation in British Columbia, who discusses how identity is formed both collectively and individually, how identity is imposed on us, and how we can also create our own identities.

Duration: 01:03:45
Published: January 13, 2021
Type: Video

Event: Elder Talk: Exploring Identity

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Elder Talk: Exploring Identity



Transcript: Elder Talk: Exploring Identity

[Two pink dots converge in the centre of a black background. A circular purple shape overlaps with an imperfect white oval. Both shapes swirl and grow larger until the purple becomes the background. A logo features a white book superimposed with a purple maple leaf next to a vertical pink dividing line and white words.]

Webcast Webdiffusion

[The logo and words grow larger and fade into a video conferencing window displaying the Lee-Ann Campbell to the left and Elder Oleman to the right.

Lee-Ann has warm-tone skin; long wavy dark brown hair with light brown ends in a high ponytail; and long, dangling silver earrings. She wears a black choker neck top. Behind her is a white wall and a tall wooden vine decoration.

Gerry Oleman has tanned skin and long white hair tied in two braids. He wears a black button-up shirt and has white earbuds in his ears. Behind him is a star quilt made up of black, grey, light blue, and dark blue diamonds on a white background. Also behind him is a red giraffe with yellow spots.

Lee-Ann smiles.]

Lee-Ann Campbell: Hello and welcome, everybody. My name is Lee-Ann Campbell, I'm a senior learning advisor with the Indigenous Learning at the Canada School of Public Service. I have the pleasure of introducing today's Elder Talk, titled "Exploring Identity." And I'd like to welcome all of the participants and I thank you personally for joining us today. Before we begin, I would like to acknowledge that since I'm in Constance Bay, Ontario, I am on the traditional unceded territory of the Algonquin people. I recognize that we all work in different areas and places and therefore I encourage you to take a moment and reflect on this where you live and where you are today. To honour the land...

[Lee-Ann's window now takes up the whole screen.]

...please take a moment to consider the First Peoples on the land where you are. Before we continue, here are a few housekeeping items that we'd like you to consider. To make your viewing experience better and more pleasurable, we encourage you to disconnect from the VPN, if possible, and reconnect to the event. Please note that simultaneous interpretation is available.

[Lee-Ann smiles.]

You can select the language of your choice...

[A purple box appears in the bottom left side of the screen with text identifying the speaker.]

Lee-Ann Campbell
Canada School of Public Service

Nathalie Laviades Jodouin
École de la fonction publique du Canada

...when first clicking on the provided webcast link. Throughout the event, you may submit your questions by clicking on the raised hand icon at the right-hand side of your webcast interface.

[Purple box fades out.]

And while we appreciate your questions, we encourage you during this particular event to listen and to reflect on what you hear.

I would like to start today by sharing why I wanted to be a part of today's event. In speaking previously to Elder Oleman, I've been reflecting on how identity is now at the forefront of many of people's minds all across the world today. In recent months, very strong movements on antiracism, unconscious bias, and we're trying to influence change and behaviour and really to connect people's minds and hearts.

I struggled with my own identity for almost all of my life. I have a very diverse background—my mother being European, my father being half Black and Indigenous, Mi'kmaq heritage. I've suffered a lot and it hasn't been easy for me. I've suffered from societal abuse at great lengths and it's often found myself not knowing which group to identify with and sometimes none at all. But even though it's come with much struggle, and oftentimes shame, I'm happy to say that I've found myself now walking in both, in three worlds. And I now have the privilege to say that with humility, pride and grace.

I'm extremely happy to be part of today's event. I've spoken to Elder Oleman. I heard his messages, I watched his videos, his podcast. He speaks with such eloquence and grace and insight, and he does have the absolute ability to open your minds and your hearts.

I'm now pleased to introduce Elder Oleman,...

[Lee-Ann's window is now to the left of Elder Oleman's window.]

...a member of the St'at'imc Nation from Tsal'alh, B.C. He's been involved as a change agent for First Nation communities, agencies, since 1976. His experiences include providing counselling for individuals, families and groups and providing leadership politically and administratively to community and nation.

Gerry came to the realization that all First Nations in Canada have the same suffering and challenges. All challenges are manmade; therefore they can be healed and fixed using our traditions and our laws that worked for us thousands of years. Over the past 34 years, Gerry has facilitated over 645 workshops across Canada and in the United States.

If you will, I would like to thank Gerry and welcome him to the event and I will pass it over to you. Gerry, thank you so much.

[Lee-Ann smiles. Gerry smiles. Gerry's window takes up the whole screen.]

Gerry Oleman: [speaking Indigenous language], and I'd just like to start off by saying [speaking Indigenous language] Canada.

[A purple box appears in the bottom left side of the screen with text identifying the speaker.]

Elder Gerry Oleman

[speaking Indigenous language] Canadians. I just wanted to start off by thanking Lee...

[Gerry puts up his right hand with his thumb and index finger extended. He brings his thumb and index finger together and wags his hand.]

...for introducing me and having me here. And also I thank all of the original, ucwal in my language means original and micw are the people that are connected to the earth,...

[Gerry points his fingers towards the ground.]

...the original people in Canada. All the way from the Innu...

[Gerry extends his left arm to his left.] Labrador to the Nuu-cha-nulth...

[Gerry extends his right arm to his right.]

...on the West Coast, and the Inuit up north...

[Gerry points behind him with his right hand.]

...and Kaska Dena people.

I'm just so happy to be here today to talk about exploring identity. You know, identity, that hunger...

[Gerry leans forward with his right fist clenched. He shakes his fist.] be the same that all human beings have.

[Gerry leans back and raises both arms, palms slightly open facing each other.]

We go through life at times wanting to be accepted, respected and heard as a human being, as an individual. Right from childhood in my own life, you know, I grew up in this because it's a human being thing.

[Gerry raises his hands as if holding something up.]

So I'd just like to start off by saying to you, all of you from across Canada...

[Gerry raises both hands, fingers outstretched, and points his palms forward.]

...or wherever you are, my imagination says,...

[Gerry raises both hands to his head and stretches his arms out away from himself before lowering his arms.]

"Oh, they're from all over the place here." Public servants. But you answered the call to be of service to other human beings, and I thank you for that. And also I'd like to let you know I'm not here to create fog, fear, obligation or guilt in regards to the past and current relationships between Indigenous people and Canadians. That my whole goal for being here today is to create understanding so we all can take direct, clear action when it comes to the treatment of each other as human beings.

You know, we now occupy and live in the second-largest land-based country in the world. You know, as a country called Canada, we're the second in the world when it comes to this land mass.

[Gerry points his palms down and spreads his hands laterally.]

So, we have a lot of resources in Canada, you know, and beauty. It's a beautiful place to be. So, one might ask, you know, why? Why are there problems here? You know, when it comes to Indigenous issues and concerns that have been coming up probably since the start of our relationship with Europeans and Indigenous people.

So, I'd just like to start off my presentation by talking about Gerry's identity journey. As a St'at'imc speaking person, from Tsal'alh. Tsal'alh means by the lake. And the St'at'imc people, we have 11 communities, 11 reservations, lands reserved for Indians. At one time, we probably had more and we had a larger population, but we were hit by a pandemic called smallpox. Then the common flu, you know, came around the same time and wiped out many of my people. I mean, there are so many, you know, like they talk about 85 percent of the St'at'imc people were killed by pandemics before they even laid eyes on a European,...

[Gerry points his right index finger towards his right eye. He lowers his hand.] know. But how was it? Just to give you some context about Indigenous people. I have done this presentation in universities about identity and I'd say, "Indigenous people, B.C., B.C." And B.C., the first B.C. means before contact. How were we, as a people, before contact with Europeans? And the other B.C. is before Christ. Before we got introduced to different religions and spiritual practices, how was it for my people?

You know, and I know this because my grandparents...

[Gerry gestures his right arm to his right.]

...and great-grandparents were still connected to their culture. The only language they spoke was St'at'imc. They harvested their own food, they lived according to the laws of the St'at'imc people, so I have connection to that.

You know, I would hear about our way of life because the culture means that we have life. In my culture, we have our language, I said, [speaking Indigenous language] means I'm thanking all of you.

[Gerry spreads his fingers, palms down, and gestures forward.]

I say [speaking Indigenous language] Lee, that means I'm just thanking Lee. So we had our distinct language, we had our distinct foods, our dress codes, our hair,...

[Gerry gestures with both hands towards his head.]

...our songs, our way of parenting, our way of governance. It was a complete way of life. And I like to brag today, you know, when I the St'at'imc people were by themselves, there was no extinction...

[Gerry points the index finger on his left hand up.] our territory, the territory we occupied and used, which is from Whistler, British Columbia, to Cache Creek, British Columbia now.

[Gerry sweeps his right hand from left to right.]

When we were living, we were very sound in mind, body and spirit. The word health, when you look up the word health. Being healthy means you have a sound mind,...

[Gerry gestures with both hands towards his head and then in front of him.]

...that means we can teach you, you can absorb teachings, you can figure things out. There's no confusion there. And your body's sign, you're COVID-free, cancer-free and diabetes-free. That's a sound body.

We have a sound spirit, and that spirit is, I feel is, needs way more attention...

[Gerry leans forward.] everybody's life to have this understanding. First off, what is spirit? Where does it come from? Spirit is critical, you know, you wouldn't be listening to me today...

[Gerry leans forward.]

...if you did not have the spirit. Because your spirit is holding your body together now.

[Gerry sits back and holds his hands apart, palms facing each other.]

And we all know the reality when our spirit leaves our body,...

[Gerry raises his hands.]

...our body is going to fall apart and go back to the Earth.

[Gerry lowers his hands.]

So the spirit comes through by the actions of our parents and that miracle of the sperm and the egg uniting...

[Gerry touches both index fingers together.]

...and you have warmth and water inside your mother and your cell division, and our body starts to form. Our mother was breathing for us, eating for us, doing everything for us. And St'at'imc people knew this, that while the baby was forming, my grandmother, my late grandmother Shuteet. Her identity was St'at'imc, her name was St'at'imc, Shuteet. That's her St'at'imc name. Her colonized name was Christine.

So she told me about the practices of St'at'imc people around, just to give you one example of our society. When that baby was forming,...

[Gerry touches the fingers of each hand together.]

...every word to that mother and to that baby, we were instructed to talk to the baby while it's forming, was to be positive and was to be teachings and knowledge. So we, as a people, started educating our people, our relatives, as soon as we knew that they're there.

We talk to them, say, "Oh, I can hardly wait till you come into the world. I'm going to show you the rivers and lakes, you know, the beauty." And help them understand that they're part of the universe.

[Gerry touches his fingers together and then spreads his hands.]

That we're interconnected to every living thing. You know, that we're all interconnected, so we must respect everything around us that gives us life. So that was St'at'imc people before contact. We had laws like any other society in the world. One of our laws was to have respect.

We were taught, anyone that comes to our community, we're to feed them, or to give them medicine if they need it. Simon Fraser was one of the first people to come to St'at'imc territory. He was looking for a route to the Pacific Ocean from the East Coast. So we fed him, my people fed him. Gave him medicines and helped him navigate down the Fraser River to let, you know, because it's rough in there, it's dangerous. So my people helped Simon Fraser, because we were taught, we were taught to be generous and to be respectful and to form relationships with other human beings.

Of course, like every other nationality in the world, we also had wars with different groups because of resources. All conflict in the world, there's only two reasons for it, resources and ideology. There are now people that are going to be fighting over water. There's been wars over oil, over gold, over silk, over tea, you know. You just think of all the events that happen between nations, it's about resources.

And also, you know, the other reason for conflict was ideology, what we believed. When you, when I look at the world, when I started to see the world...

[Gerry leans forward and gestures his hands outwards.]

...and it opened up in front of me because of Google, and encyclopedias before Google, you know, and I started to see people and what they were doing, what was happening on this planet.

When I describe to you that, just that little glimpse of St'at'imc life, the foundations are the—one of the pillars for it was the power of love. Because love is, actually, it's not a feeling, it's a commitment. When our mother bore us as we came, when we were a baby and they put us into our mother's arms,...

[Gerry cradles his hands together.]

...our mother made a commitment to feed us, to keep us clean, to guard us, to watch over us. That's a commitment. So when that commitment is consistent and done in a respectful manner, the warm feelings flow between the human beings...

[Gerry gestures his hands back and forth.]

...and that's what they call love now, but it's based on positive commitment. So we were taught about this commitment and the critical importance of making connections. By respecting the salmon. I've seen one of the last great salmon runs in the Fraser River, I've never seen it again. You could see literally see the sockeye salmon in the Fraser River,...

[Gerry points his fingers down, his hands rising and falling.]

...there were so many of them. So we were taught to respect that. We had ceremonies for the first salmon, we had ceremonies for babies being born. We had ceremonies for weddings or funerals. So we had a complete way of life and our identity was pure St'at'imc, through our language, our music, our dress. So that's my St'at'imc identity.

And as I grew up in Canada, and the word Canada means village in the Iroquoian language. So we're actually living in a big village,...

[Gerry spreads his arms outwards.] know, all of us, we're part of the same where the village is people together with common...

[Gerry brings his hands back together.]

...purpose. So as I grew up, you know my identity, I started to struggle then. Because my people, their ways were discouraged, our language, our ceremonies, our government governance systems. When the colonizers came and they put this new system on us. Hegemony, they call it, you know, the hegemon, the one that colonizer came and said, "This is where to live now.

[Gerry leans forward and gestures outward with his hands, palms down.]

This is where you are to live."

Remember, I was saying that Canada's second-largest man—land-based country in the world. Indian reservations in Canada occupied 0.5 percent of the land mass in Canada.

So we started, you know, identities are created or we're born with them, and it's the created identities that bring problems. Like, all of a sudden, I heard this word Indian, that's a created identity. There were men together that said, "Let's call them Indians." We all became Indians right from the West Coast to the East Coast to the North Coast. We're identified as Indians.

But there were negative connotations to that word Indian.

[Gerry holds up his right hand, thumb and index finger pinched together in a circle.]

That we're a pagan, savage, heathens, because we did not follow Christ. So, all of a sudden, this identity was created.

[Gerry leans forward.]

People had fear of us. 1492 and the 15, 16, 17, 1800s, there is great fear of the devil. So when they would say "Indigenous people were devil worshippers and they spoke the devil's language," people would be afraid of us. You know, and that had a huge impact on my identity as an Indigenous man.

This created identity that I'm a pagan, and I'm a savage and I'm a heathen. They started to add other nouns to it, like saying, I'm a drunken Indian, I'm a stupid Indian, I'm a crazy Indian, I'm a lazy Indian, I heard all of those and more. Some of them were, they'd use swear words when they're talking to me as an Indian.

So this created identity started to raise havoc in my life. I started to feel ashamed of who I was, ashamed of my people.

[Gerry gestures his hands towards himself and outwards.]

We were called drunkards and many of my people turned to alcohol. We never had alcohol in St'at'imc culture before contact with Europeans. We never drank alcohol, made alcohol or used it as a people. So all of a sudden we get hit with all of this newness and it created a new identity for us. I call it the crazy new way.

You know, and people, very few, I haven't heard people ask, "Well, why was that happening?" If someone happened to ask me, I would tell them,...

[Gerry leans forward and holds up his right index finger.]

..."because of the resources." We created this ideology, this belief system that Indigenous people are inferior, that there is something wrong with them.

Where I'm from, they had the.... At one time, they were given—it was the largest gold ore deposit in the country that they knew of at that time, called Goldbridge Bralorne, where I'm from, where we hunted moose, picked berries and harvested the spring salmon for the winter. They found gold there and they wanted that. They wanted the beaver pelt, you know, the tobacco. You know, there were some targeted things they wanted from Canada at the beginning.

So there was—I tell people it's like a tsunami hit us. The first wave of tsunami was smallpox. Now, my people abandoned their permanent dwelling villages. We had s7istkens,...

[Gerry spreads his arms out.]

...underground dwellings that were 300 feet across that were our halls for conferences and meetings of St'at'imc people. We had individual dwellings that were made to withstand elements of cold in the wintertime. They became mass graveyards, our people died of smallpox and they would burn them down. So we started to move away from our permanent dwelling places where they had clean water.

[Gerry leans forward.]

Water was plentiful. So that's Gerry's, you know, I grew up feeling ashamed of my people, ashamed of myself, more importantly, being Indigenous, because of the created identity.

All human beings are susceptible to created identity. If you're a liar and all your co-workers say "Oh, don't believe him, he's a liar," you've got a liar identity. I had an identity of being a drunk because I drank so much after I left residential school. Oh, Gerry is a drunk. So I created that identity by drinking.

[Gerry leans forward.]

I created it. So if we can create identities, we can also create new identities, and that's what I'd like to get to. But I'd just like to talk now about, because, you know, we were traumatized as people from the racism. Trauma means to be cut...

[Gerry moves his right hand down in a cutting motion.]

...or wounded. I've been wounded by racism, been called stupid, you know, the way I've been treated growing up in Canada. I was impacted by religion. Because there are Christians that hurt me that broke their own laws at residential school. You know, and you're not supposed to abuse children. Even in the Bible, I think they say if someone does that, they should be thrown off a boat with a rock tied to their foot.

But there was over—there's over 33,000 registered cases of physical sexual abuse in Canada in the residential school system against Indigenous students. So this,...

[Gerry holds his right hand up, palms facing forward.] we're also traumatized by RCMP, the Sixties Scoop, the removal, you know? So we went through this series in stages of being traumatized. And I know this identity business, I'm really happy to come and talk to you about this,...

[Gerry leans forward.]

...because I've been talking now for two months to people about identity. And I started to understand the criticalness of us with our own identity. For instance, I started to look at Canadians. I said, "OK, Europeans, they call us a multicultural society." So I went to the beginning and I said, "Who were the first ones?" Because I hear some people calling themselves settler. You know, people that aren't Indigenous. Very few, but I hear some and I wonder, why did they say that?

Because here's my view of everyone that's in Canada. You know, the first to come were the explorers.

[Gerry holds up his right hand, thumb and index finger pinched together in a circle.]

Christopher Columbus came over on behalf of Queen Isabella of Spain. Go find new wealth for me, new riches. He bumped into the Caribbean islands, you know, and... Captain Vancouver exploring the West Coast, mapping it, so the first ones were the explorers coming, you know, on behalf of merchants and the royals in Europe. And once they, what they say, discovered South America, North America, then they started sending the colonizers.

[Gerry leans forward, holding his right index finger up.]

In my view, colonizers are very few because they are the appointee of the king or the queen or both of them in Europe to go plant their flag and say,...

[Gerry clenches his right hand in a fist and lowers it.]

..."I claim this on behalf of the king and queen of England," or king and queen of Spain, or France in those days, and they claim it and they set up a colony and they have a colonial governor; those are colonizers.

Because I'm a real history buff, you know, I've read a lot of books and I've travelled. I travelled to England, to Spain, to Portugal, to France, to see that land. Israel, Jordan, Palestine. You know, to see... To Greece, the birthplace of democracy, you know, because I'm a curious man and I want to understand.

So the colonizers were appointed and they set up the colony. And once you built the fort and they call this is a colony, a French colony or English colony in North America. You know, the Spanish and Russians were on, too, but the English and the French were more solid. Soon as you have a colony, you need people to occupy the colony.

[Gerry leans forward.]

So they came up with a plan and these are the settlers. They were given free land to settle in Canada, 540 acres per man...

[Gerry holds up his right index finger and wags it.]

...and that enticed people to come to North America, to Canada, to settle, so we... Because you need people to set up in establishing a government, you need human beings. So they got all these settlers to come in. I've seen posters that they would send out to start setting up the colony to settle Canada.

In my journey to England, I'd go to heritage sites and I would see and read about the English people. And I went to this one heritage house, it's a five-room house made out of stone, you know, 1400s, a permanent dwelling. They said there was up to 55 people living in five, but five-room buildings. They were overcrowded in England. And that they were ruled by the royals, the laws and the taxation was extreme, and they did not have a choice of religion. At one point they're all Catholic, then they have Protestants, you know, and then there started to be fights and that in England.

So, because I was wondering how, how can people leave their homeland? How could they leave where they're born, where their ancestors are buried? So when I understood that they were ostracized in England, too, and unhappy, I can see how come they could pull up and come to Canada. I understood then.

So those are the settlers. Then, after the settlers come the immigrants. They're moving away because they're unhappy,...

[Gerry sweeps his right arm from right to centre.]

...they're looking for a better life. I met some immigrants in Ontario from England. She was my elder because she's in her 90s when I'm talking to her and I asked her and she has a farm, but she's passed now. But she had this farm and her husband passed, but it was his farm.

So I asked her, I said, "Can I ask you why you left England?" And she said, "Yes, of course. I'll tell you." She said, "My dear husband always wanted to be a farmer but there's so little land in England that we knew that he would never be a farmer in England." So after the Second World War, I guess they were talking and said, "Yeah, let's go somewhere and you can be a farmer."

So they talked about Australia and Canada. So the first ship to leave was for Canada, so they jumped on that ship with a suitcase and a woollen blanket. They immigrated to Canada.

And they saved and bought land and started to farm, fulfilled his dream to be a farmer. The reason I tell you this, because I used to resent all Canadians,...

[Gerry leans forward.]

...immigrants, colonizers, settlers. But I started to understand now they have the human condition of wanting a good life and Canada is a beautiful country. The other group that come to Canada were refugees, the ones that were running for their lives either from environmental reasons or from terrorism in their own country. People killing them, they became refugees and they ended up in Canada. So those are the groups that come to Canada.

[Gerry holds up his hands and counts the fingers on his left hand.]

First off explorer, colonizer, settler, immigrant, refugee. So you can identify yourself as a, you know, you can be a first-, second-, third-generation colonizer, one of your relatives was appointed by a king or a queen. Or you can be a settler; your grandfather, great-grandfather, great-great-grandfather, took land to come here. That would make you a survivor or, you know, your generation's, third- or fourth-generation, settler or immigrant. We have recent immigrants now, or a refugee.

So that's a Canadian first identity. After that, and you sign the paper,...

[Gerry holds his right hands over his chest.] sing "O Canada," you get registered, then you're a Canadian. But first off, you're—you come from that....

So my journey, you know, has been one of resentment and anger and depression because of identity. But now, obviously, you can see I have transformed. Now, I'm now a proud St'at'imc Canadian. I don't deny that Canadian part of me now that I'm part of this big village.

[Gerry leans forward.]

Because I've got Canadian ID, I pay taxes, I do all of those things and I enjoy the wonderful things we have here in Canada. Do I suffer from racism? Yes, I still suffer at times, when someone is unkind to me or stereotypes me.

[Gerry leans forward.]

But they no longer own Gerry, you know, that's their problem.

[Gerry points his right hand to his right.]

If you resent someone because of the colour of your skin, that's your problem, it's not the person that you resent, it's not their problem. It can become if you discriminate or if you refuse service to them. But being me talking to what, 1500 service providers or even more, I think it's a wonderful... I'm just so grateful to come and talk to you about my views, my world views...

[Gerry gestures his right hand towards his head and then outwards to his right.]

...that I created through travelling, through reading, through talking and listening to people.

Over the years, when I started talking about race relations in Canada, I'd go to universities and colleges and international conferences I'd get asked to speak at, and I got in the habit of asking people, "How many people here would like to emigrate?" And I'd be at the university with 250 students, and not one of them would put up their hand.

[Gerry raises his right hand and waves it.]

I'd say, "That proves to me that Canada is a wonderful place, you don't want to leave. So let's look after it. Let's make it a wonderful place, even a better place to live through our actions. What are we doing...

[Gerry raises and lowers his right hand.] deserve to live in such a beautiful place that we don't want to leave?" But I have to admit you, I met one person, in one of the colleges, when I was doing a presentation. I said, "How many people here would like to emigrate away from Canada?" One arm went up.

[Gerry raises his right hand.]

It's an African woman. She was a refugee. She did not want to leave Africa but she had no choice. I met another man at another conference at UBC and I asked the same question. So there's one man and one woman that put up their hands and said, "I'd like to emigrate." It was a Syrian, he wanted to go to Aleppo. But he had to... He became a refugee to save his life.

[Gerry nods his head.]

You know, I'm telling you this, when you identify you can say, "I'm a child, grandchild or the great-grandchild of an explorer or a settler, or an immigrant," at your roots. But beyond that root, you're Canadian, you belong to a village of people.

The wish for every human being, the desire for every human being, is to have happiness in their life. We want, that's the same.

[Gerry holds up his right index finger.]

So I have been telling people now for years that we're slowly working on developing a Canadian identity. So if I asked all of you now, if I could sit in the same room with you, and say, "Tell me what a Canadian is." Could you tell me with certainty what a Canadian is? I'm waiting for the day when we can do that. Because, you know, when we do create an identity and there's times that I feel we don't need to do this. In fact, we shouldn't do this. But there's times we do create an identity or we accept an identity, then we defend it to the death.

You know, my dad, my late father, signed up to fight in the Second World War. They had the fear of Nazism. So he became brother-in-arms with Canadians as a St'at'imc man. And he was so committed to the life of people in Canada, like many, everyone that went there winter was like that, I'm sure, that went to Europe to fight in the Second World War—were defending a way of life.

I questioned my father in his commitment because I'd seen racists attack my father and he would still wear the poppy proudly and buy them every year. In my mind, I'm questioning him, "Why are you doing that, Dad? They don't treat you good." And I thought of it, I had seen pictures of him in uniform. With his brothers-in-arms, and they had their arms over each other's shoulder,...

[Gerry extends his right arm to his right.]

...and he's the only Indigenous man in that picture. So that led me to believe that, yes, we can become one. We can form relationships that are positive as individuals in this country. As government, this could be much tougher because when you talk governments, to government relations, you end up talking about resources and boundaries. But, as you and I, as a human being, we can sit down and have a cup of tea and talk about things, you know, and form a relationship. I feel that needs to happen.

Because if you sat down with Gerry before you knew me, if you looked at me, you might stereotype me. But once you get to know me, you'll see my humour and my wittiness and my generosity and my compassion for human beings.

Look, I've been raised in the traditional way and they are saying said if anybody calls you for help, you go there and do your best. Anybody. Doesn't matter the colour or religion or gender; you go help them. That's a culture, the way of life where I come from, that's my identity.

[Gerry points with his right hand towards himself.]

And I've revived that identity in myself and I live it today to help to form relationships with other human beings for the common good of our children. I have been taught that it's our responsibility as adults, is to make life better for our children that are coming behind us.

[Gerry motions behind himself with his right hand.]

To make sure they have plenty of water, plenty of food, that they have purpose. That's our job as adults, that's the way I was taught by traditional people. They're saying, you know, seven generations from now, 560 years from now, you think of your children having the water you're drinking, the food you're eating, the shelter you have. So that's seven generations. We were taught to think in generations, not fiscal years, not five-year plans. In seven generations, they used call it 80 years, one generation.

[Gerry raises his right index finger.]

Seven generations from now, are our descendants going to have the wealth that we have today? The safety? That's what identity to me is about. It's about the sameness.

[Gerry holds both hands together.]

That We become on the same page to take care of Mother Earth, to form positive relationships, to ensure the future that is sustainable for all the people that are here.

I went to Rome because I was taught, and it took me a long time to accept the teaching, that I must forgive people that I hate. Otherwise, my life will never be complete, that I'll never be settled in that sense of wonder about creation. That that hate will...

[Gerry covers his eyes with his right hand.]

...obstruct my view. So I went to Rome and I done the ceremony there to forgive the Catholic Church for their role in the residential schools. I went there and told, down the speech...

[Gerry motions to his right with his right hand.] the Basilica grounds, that I'm here to forgive you, that means I'm here to let go, let you go. And I was talking to all of the priests and clergy that sexually abused children. I said, I'm here to forgive you, to let you go. I dropped eagle down feathers.

[Gerry sweeps his clenched right hand in front of him and opens his hand, palms facing down.]

I said, "I want healing for all the victims, the people who've been hurt by the Roman Catholic Church. I acknowledge and confess that you have many people that do beautiful work for the homeless and the addicted."

[Gerry brings his right hand to his head and sweeps it outwards to his right.]

So my mind opened up and I seen see the beauty and I seen the danger and I seen the ugliness, but I want to focus on the beauty way of life. The Elders have told me, "You live your life where you create beauty in front of you, behind you, beside you, above you.

[Gerry motions with his right hand in front of, behind, and above himself.]

When you get to tomorrow and you look back, what do you see? Beauty. So live the beauty way of life." That's Indigenous philosophers that say that, philosophers means guiding thoughts, how to live.

I'm in Manitoba, just south of me here, in the Dakotas. Chief Sitting Bull was down there and then he said, "Let's put our minds together...

[Gerry touches his right index finger to his head.] see what we can do for the children." You know, that's good philosophy. That's a good guiding thought. You know, so that's part of what I want you to understand today, is that Indigenous people had a way of life other than what you may have seen in the media or movies. Because I know there is a temptation to look at our trauma and our addictions and the numbers of incarcerations and suicides and things, but that's not really our identity.

We come from beautiful people. We're taught to be generous, we're a green people, we never wasted. I remember, my uncle said, "Yeah, we go camping at that mountain,...

[Gerry motions with his right hand to his right.]

...pick berries and harvest deer for the winter. And when we left, no one would know that there were a camp, that's how clean it was." That's the people I come from, that's my original identity.

[Gerry points to himself with his right hand.]

You heard me talk about my created identity, what it'd done to me in so many words. So, now, I say create a Canadian identity. First thing we ask is, are we proud to be Canadian? And if we are, why? Then we build on that. You know, because the historical events in this country, like residential school, for instance. That was a trauma. My great—my grandfather, my mom's dad went to jail for six months for saying, "You're not taking Martina, you're not taking Johnny to residential school." Next day, the RCMP were there and they arrested him and put him in jail for six months. You'd better believe that had an impact on my grandpa, my grandma and me because it's intergenerational. I had resentment for the law in this country.

So now I come to understand that that's history and I want to be part of a new history. I want, as they say in the language in the West Coast, [speaking Indigenous language] [00:48:49], can we become one?

[Gerry holds up his index and middle fingers on his right hand and crosses them.]

And I believe that we can because we're human beings. When we're in a room and we sing together, we become one because we breathe together. When you're in a room and you pray together, you become one, your energy becomes one. I believe we can do that in Canada, we can become one.

We must discipline ourselves and discipline each other, that's an Indigenous way, we had no police and social workers before contact. We took care of ourselves and each other. We had shame feasts, one of our clansman members breaks a law and hurt somebody from the other clan, our clan would gift them, and gift them, and gift them...

[Gerry looks down and silences his phone.]

...and have shame feasts. So we wouldn't have to talk about it again and the victims were compensated and it was all corrected. That's where I come from, that's an identity I dream of and wish for.

So that's my 45 minutes sharing with you, exploring identity and, you see, you could probably see and hear that I thought a lot about this and I know it's important. I come from a people that tend to other people. Where I'm from, there's a mentally handicapped person in our community. His children were taught not to make fun of him. He's in his 60s and he's playing cards with us because he's.... His name is Pohosh [00:50:44], it means his mind is stuck in one place and we're not to blame him. So as a result, we don't even talk about it, we just accept Pohosh...

[Lee-Ann's window appears on screen to the left of Gerry's.]

...the way he is. Same with gay or lesbians, or gender issues, we wouldn't talk about it, we accept it.

[Lee-Ann's window disappears and Gerry's window takes up the whole screen.]

Because sometimes when we create identity, we want to, we have to defend it. Like, look at the war between Protestants and Catholics. That's about identity. They are saying, "Your identity is wrong, mine is right."

[Gerry points his right index finger to his right and then to himself.]

So in an Indigenous way, we say, "Oh, you're a Protestant? OK, cool. You're a Catholic? Cool." You know, not wanting to fight about or talk about it. That's you. That's your life. Live your life, I wish you the best. So that'll be my closing thoughts on identity. You know, let's create a common identity, but let's not "other" people.

Every family. Every family in our history, sometimes we would have someone born with some mental handicaps, physical handicaps, you know, some are tall, some are short, some are overweight, some are skinny. Some are gay, some are lesbian, some are trans. Let's not fall into that, where they have to defend their identity, who they are, but accept people where they are.

And if they are in a negative place, send them good energy and do your best to help them to change. So I'd just like to thank the ones that called me here. And I'd like to thank you again for the work that you do. I have no idea, but I know it makes people, it takes people to make the world go round in our communities and our provinces, we need people working.

Bean Be in counters, you know, public highways, post offices, all of those things, we need people. My imagination says that you fit in one of those categories somewhere, and it's probably pretty broad, but I thank you for your service, I probably benefited from it, I know I have by living in Canada. So, I just wish you the best safety this year, above all.

You know, and that part of our identity be that we are generous in spirit. So, when someone needs a COVID shot and it's our turn and we don't really need it, we let them take it. That would be a cool Canadian, you know.

[Gerry smiles.]

So, no fog, no fear, obligation or guilt. I'm not asking for anything as an Indigenous man. I have to figure out my life and live with you all, you know. And I want to enjoy that, I want to enjoy the rest of my life. I spent 14 years being angry at the Government of Canada and the Catholic Church. And when I finally let that go, I realized that terrible waste of my life is all that anger didn't change one thing. It just made Gerry unhealthy. Yeah, so I guess we might have some questions or?

[Lee-Ann's window appears to the left of Gerry's.]

Lee-Ann: Gerry, thank you so, so much. Wow,...

[Lee-Ann shakes her head.]

...I don't even know where to begin. It's always such a pleasure talking to you, my friend. You know, there's a couple of things that struck me and, you know, I guess probably the first and foremost is that I'm starting to realize that identity is—there's many levels...

[Gerry nods.]

...and depth and breadth to identity. It's not just at a surface level, where I think I've spent most of my life struggling with the shame that you spoke about and just seeing myself, or other people, probably, may find themselves in a similar situation, looking in the mirror and just seeing...

[Lee-Ann holds up both hands, palms facing each other.]

...who they see, reflecting back at them. And, you know, then saying that's who they are, that's how people, society, views them. You also spoke about forgiveness and I'm wondering if you can share with us a little bit or provide a little bit of insight about the process of what one has to go through. Others like myself who have struggled with that, who struggle with it today. If I can just share with you quite quickly it's that, you know, I have this beautiful piece of land not far from my hometown, where I suffered a lot, and I grew up hunting and fishing and having great respect for the land and the interconnectedness of Mother Nature and beauty and spirituality and I cherish those memories so much that I purchased a small piece of that beauty. And I take pride in being able to and I feel privileged that I can go there in the summer, in the fall and so on, and do all of the things that I was able to do with my father, who taught me how to survive in the bush and off the land.

And, you know, every time I drive through that town to get to my sanctuary, if you will, I find myself struggling and I can't stop. If we have to stop for gas or maybe go to a bakery where my son loves to go, I won't even get out of the vehicle because I'm transported back...

[Lee-Ann motions with her right hand to her right.] those times and those memories of, of shame and not feeling good and about who I am. And, you know, I'm not a young child anymore...

[Gerry's window disappears and Lee-Ann's takes up the whole screen.]

...and I'm just wondering, like people who are struggling, how do you get past that? Like, how do you—I know you said forgiveness, but certainly there's a process behind that? Like, can you provide any insight on that, my friend?

[Gerry's window appears to the right of Lee-Ann's.]

Gerry: Yes. I see we've got three minutes, so I'll see what I can do in three minutes. You know, but it's, you know, that's a very good question, because when I was first told that for my healing to be complete, I must forgive, I said,...

[Gerry sweeps his right hand to his right.]

..."No, no, no, I don't want to do it. Why should I forgive them? They hurt me. They done this. They done that." And you know, I was into the "they" business. And when I looked up the word forgive in a dictionary—it's one of my favourite books...

[Gerry's window enlarges to take up the screen.] a dictionary—as I see...

[A purple box appears in the bottom left side of the screen with English text identifying the speaker.]

Elder Gerry Oleman

...the origin of words, it's Greek, French, Latin, whatever. And the word forgive means to let go.

[The text in the purple box is replaced with French text identifying the speaker.]

Aîné Gerry Oleman

So I forgave the men that abused me at residential school,...

[The purple box fades out.] Rome at the Basilica. That means I let them go, I put them down...

[Lee-Ann's window appears to the left of Gerry's.]

...and I refused to carry them anymore. And then my body changed because it's in, it's a cellular thing,...

[Gerry gestures with his right hand towards his body.]'s in every part of my body. Some people think it's just in the mind.

[Gerry points with his right hand towards his head.]

No, my back was tense, my shoulders...

[Gerry tenses his shoulders and curls the fingers on his right hand.]

...would hunch up when I'd think about them, you know, it was, it was part of me. So once I put them down, I was free. And then I identified aches and pains, I went to massage therapy where they're doing deep tissue. Because my lower back had problems because I was abused by men. You know, so my body structure got a whole, everything got affected, right?

So when I forgave them and I let them go, part of what I went through is casting off, I went through a literal ceremony called "casting off." I cast them off because a healer said to me, "They're still in you." And that was a gross, frightening thought,...

[Gerry leans back and raises his right hand.]
...and they said, "You can get rid of them." The healer told me, and said, "OK, close your eyes.

[Gerry closes his eyes.]

Soon as you see them, you cast them off because they're still in you. Make noise, just do it."

[Gerry puts both of his arms up.]

I done that, I close my eyes...

[Gerry closes his eyes.]

...and I, just like that, I seen two faces and I went and screamed,...

[Gerry pushes his right and left hands away from him with a frightened expression.]

...and I went like that, and I cast them off. That's a form of forgiveness, I refuse to carry their memory, their faces, you know, the thoughts about myself in those minutes of abuse. I forgave, it means I let them go.

I'm carrying somebody I had no business carrying, I was carrying the Canadian government, I was blaming the Canadian government for everything that's happening to Gerry. I let that go too, I forgave that, because I went to Britain to forgive the Brits for colonizing Canada and the change was tangible.

[Gerry leans forward.]

When I first got to London, I went to see a soccer match, football match, and I'm asking Brits—and I hated Brits, I hated their accent, I hated everything about them, you know, before I healed, before I forgave them—and I... and they could feel it. You know, I'd ask, how do I get to the tube, how do I get to the bus in order to get to Fulham to go watch a soccer match? Nobody would talk to me. So I got people to tell me and I made it, yeah. But after I went through my forgiveness ceremony, British people started talking to me. I imagine there's like little barriers...

[Gerry stretches his fingers on both hands outwards, palms forward.]

...or prickles sticking out of me. People could see it, Gerry hates them,...

[Gerry leans forward and points with his right hand towards his eyes.]

...see it in my eyes, even though I'm pretending not to at the time. Because our body never lies.

Lee-Ann: No, it doesn't. It doesn't, for sure.

Gerry: And once you forgive, when you get the benefits of that, like I've been saying this saying now for a while, is you cannot say goodbye to your problems until you say hello to them.

[Lee-Ann nods.]

And part of that is forgiving people that have hurt you, letting them go.

Lee-Ann: Thank you, Gerry, I.... Those are very, very powerful words, and I have no doubt in my mind it's helped many, many people across this nation and everybody listening here today. But for the sake of time, my friend, I want to say on behalf of the School, I'd like to thank you, my friend, Elder Gerry Oleman and all of you across the country for being part of today's discussion.

[A purple banner appears at the bottom of the screen with a link.]

I hope you enjoyed today's event. Your feedback is actually very, very important to us and you'll be receiving an evaluation in the next coming days and we'd like to hear more about what you thought about today's event. The School, as you know, has many, many events to offer to you and I encourage you to visit our website and to keep up to date with the events that are coming down the pipeline.

[The purple banner sweeps to the right and disappears.]

Please join us February 15th. Our next Elder Talk is on the history and contributions of the Métis in Canada, and it'll be with Tony Belcourt, and our dear friend, Céline Henry. The registration is currently open and, once again, I want to thank you all. I want to wish you all a wonderful day, and I think if I can sum it up, you know, we have a lot of similarities, a lot of differences, but I think in the end of the day, we have more similarities than differences and that we're all equal. So, I wish you farewell and Gerry, thanks again. And thank you again, all of you who came here today to listen to this very, very important discussion.

[Lee-Ann and Gerry smile.]

Gerry: Thank you. Be safe and we're going to beat this COVID.

Lee-Ann: Thank you, Gerry. Take good care.

Gerry: OK, bye-bye.

[The screen fades to purple. A logo features a white book superimposed with a purple maple leaf. The pages of the book turn and close as the logo disappears. The background fades to black.]

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