At the conclusion of Emma Field Book Two and the beginning of Book Three, the young Jessabelle-Rose Matheson, on the threshold of a new life, falls gravely ill. It is Orenda Pierce, matriarch of the displaced Seneca nation, who understands that the girl’s heart’s loyalty is to her family, which, freshly ripped apart and long bent by the oppressive arm of slavery, is keeping her from fully stepping into her future.
How often are we like Jessabelle-Rose – on the edge of something we’ve wanted all our lives when the saboteur within us raises its ugly head and demands that we scurry back to being small? In my experience it has happened more often than I’d like to admit!
Orenda Pierce, and other First Nations, Inuit and Métis elders who hold their people’s traditions understand that our families are like great puzzles. When each of us is born we fill the hole in the puzzle of our family made by the departure or unresolved circumstances of other family members. Centuries before Freud’s first patient lay upon a couch, or Jung began to dance with archetypes, native spiritual leaders understood that to look clearly at the difficulties of the ancestors and to draw upon the strength of the family unit is to face the future with shoulders squared and head held high.
So why are there not more aboriginal children able to do just that? First of all, the wounds inflicted on Native Canadians were of a colossal magnitude. Gabor Maté M.D. says the “destruction of traditional relationships, extended family, clan, tribe, village; economic and social change, and displacement of people from their homes pulled apart the sense of belonging in morals and the spiritual world.” (pg. 263 – In The Realm of the Hungry Ghosts) Even the “simple” gut-wrenching act of removing one child from the familiarity of home, family, language, homeland and culture to the confines of residential school is traumatic. But there were 150,000 children (and their parents who were unable to protect them) who were traumatized by this.
Let’s turn for a moment to epigenetics – where behaviours, toxins or trauma of one generation can impact the expression of genes in subsequent generations.
One study on the eating habits of multiple generations of families in Sweden showed that grandfathers who went from a normal diet to routine overeating had grandsons who died an average of six years earlier than the grandsons of those who didn’t. Epigenetics may, in time, provide hard scientific evidence of intergenerational trauma of Native Canadians and link it to the diseases that currently afflict them like diabetes and cancer, not to mention the mental health issues that drive a disproportionate number of young aboriginals to suicide or dependence upon drugs and alcohol.
So why did First Nations, Inuit and Métis of this country not apply the poultice of their spiritual practices to the life-threatening wounds they received? Because they weren’t allowed to! The Indian Act of 1885 prohibited their traditional religious ceremonies until 1951!
Yet somehow, somehow, despite all of this there are people all across this country smudging, fasting, taking part in vision quests and crawling into the searing heat of a sweat lodge. In so doing they are healing their past, present and future in one fowl swoop. I know some of these people. They are in my own family.
But it isn’t just “the victims” who need to be healed. We all do. German psychotherapist Bert Hellinger, who combined the work of psychologist Virginia Satir with what he learned from the Zulu of South Africa to create Family Constellations or Systemic Constellation Work, knows this more than most. He has long observed in his work that those families who descend from WWII members of the Nazi party often require as much healing as descendants of the Jews who had been persecuted.
Whether we employ Hellinger’s Family Constellations or revive traditional aboriginal consciousness, it is entirely possible to heal the past and present by honouring family wounds without being limited by them. In so doing our children, be they aboriginal or not, may be born into new patterns and endless possibilities!