My inspiration and goals to decolonize my family structure is a larger part of my journey to heal the interruptions of colonization on my self and my family. I come from a colonial view of “family,” a nuclear family. Husband, Wife, and Children; we all lived together, and extended family was a support option.
After working with hundreds of Indigenous children and families over the past ten years, I’ve come to know one thing for sure: we are to be in whole relation with our family members and our communities.
I’ve watched families struggle with colonial systems because they demand that we live in a structure that they approve of. I’ve decided that I will live in direct resistance of that idea. I was sick of watching children being taken because a parent is often left completely alone to struggle to raise up multiple children. I’ve watched parents be judged by their own people and being deemed not “good enough,” because “look, they never have their kids, Grandma always has them.” I’ve been a victim myself to that lateral violence, that shame, that threat.
I finally decided it was time to truly work at decolonizing my family as much as possible. Looking at my family and starting to deconstruct what was colonially placed as a standard upon us. I did this through first leaving my life in the city (Vancouver) and moving out to my husband’s territory, where they have enacted and enforced title upon their Tsilhqot’in Nen. From that point, I began to study and research what the old family structures looked like.
My main questions were: why do our families struggle so much to be healthy? What is it in our blood memory that is telling us that the nuclear family is not natural to us?
One of my favourite scholars to follow is Dr. Kim TallBear. She is doing amazing work both in her professional and personal life to share her journey on decolonizing her relations. I have been using her experiences to create my own new understanding of family and community and the positions we all take. Letting the children live naturally on the land is my way of gifting them with confidence and becoming one with the land in their own time and through their own discoveries.
The biggest teaching I’ve come to realize is that my children do not belong to me. I brought them into this world with my body; Creator chose my body to bring them here. Mother Earth and her gravity supported me in birthing them onto this new plane. My body and Mother Earth did the work; that does not give me complete ownership over them.
In decolonizing the family, I understand now that there is no shame in raising my children together with the larger community.
I have let go of the shame that my children were partially raised by their paternal family. They were given so much more because I raised them this way. The understandings of the world around them has grown exponentially. Ultimately, they now have a greater sense of responsibility to themselves and their communities because they were raised relationally among us all and most importantly, with the land. Because they were raised by the community they now know, innately, that each choice they make, good or bad, will impact the greater community as a whole. This is something that colonialism took from us when they setup up the nuclear structure here, they took that personal responsibility from us. We were interdependent upon another; we all brought our gifts to the people and used them in the best way possible to serve the people.
In my new understanding, I refuse to be shamed that my children are being raised by community. It does not mean I love them any less that my son doesn’t live with me. I honour his gifts so deeply that I show him my undying love and respect by giving him the gift of being raised by family that can really bring these gifts out. I don’t know the language, I don’t know all my teachings around his Coming of Age, but his extended family does. Giving him this life will only serve him and the Nation in the greatest way possible. He is being raised by dozens of people that all want to see him serve his Nation with the greatest love and respect possible.
It was hard for me to be a single parent, I felt alone, isolated and overwhelmed. It was not a natural feeling for me. I was gifted when I began to understand that the reason it didn’t feel natural to do it all alone was because I wasn’t meant to do it all alone. My blood memory rejected the idea. That’s not how we ever raised up our babies, we did it in relation with other caretakers. The reason those babies are always at Grandma’s is because, pre-colonially, she taught them respect, discipline, and the ethics of hard work. The reason our sisters and brothers are so important in our children’s lives is because, traditionally, they were the disciplinarians, they taught the hard lessons to the babies. Why is that our kids don’t seem to listen to us? Again, because we weren’t the ones that guided them, their Aunts and Uncles did. The parents were there to closely watch the child for their gifts in relation with the Elders to see where that child needed to be to grow into their full potential. We as single people do not have the capacity to give our children everything they need to be caretakers of the Nation.
As a parent I keep them safe, I watch closely as they develop their characters as closely as possible in relation to the land, through their prayers, morning runs, and regular ceremony. The children need the space to develop the gifts that Creator set about for them on this plane.
So to say we are all in relation with one another and with the land, to take the colonial idea of “people are property” out of it means that we let go of a lot of expectations and begin to just enjoy this space and time in it’s entirety.
This is our responsibility as parents and contributors to our great Nations.