A Prayer for Social Transformation

By Posted in - Reflections on February 13th, 2014 9 Comments Browning, MA

I wanted to write about my experience. I need to let this out, I need to liberate myself from the repeated patterns of thoughts that have been dominating my psyche since becoming an elected official. I know that ‘elected officials’ need to be conscious of how they carry themselves and what they put out there into the social media world. There are rules, expectations, reputations that need to be respected and achieved in order to be successful in the political realm – Smiles, handshakes, hugs, basic rhetoric speeches and glamorized conversations with people. But I’m not a politician and nor have I ever thought myself to become one. There are changes that are occurring throughout the planet and as of lately the system has been occupying and owning the indigenous presence for too long. If any revolution needs to occur is

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that of the indigenous – and political rules, boardrooms, and negotiation tables will do nothing to assist a revolution.

I’m frustrated, no, i’m enraged. And I’m enraged at my own people, my own families, my own circumstance. And I know the worst thing I can do is direct this energy at my own people – I need to remind myself it’s the system that has it’s grip on the will of the people. It’s the system that has orchestrated the current outcomes we have been facing. Yet I need an avenue to rant, vent and speak my mind unedited, unconcealed, exposed and transparent.

I also want to write this from the position that the children of Poundmaker who have no idea on what’s happening will be reading it in the future. I don’t want nor do I intend to disrespect families or people. I merely want to describe the affects and symptoms of colonization, oppression, systemic suppression, and historic trauma has had on our people, on our nation’s way of life. The young people are watching. The worse thing we can do is expect the young people to carry the legacies of the mistakes and labels of their grandparents, parents, aunties and uncles. The young people of all our communities and Nations deserve to start fresh with a clean slate. It is however important to understand that knowing what happened in the past is vital to prevent anything unhealthy from repeating in the future. It’s all part of the process. Forgiveness is also a part of it. Forgiveness towards our own people for what they have done, and the realities they manifested which we as younger generations, and our children, are inheriting. I will not use names in the blogs to come out of respect for the families of the children and young people. These blogs will be a prayer for social transformation.

I never pursued being involved with politics and yet politics is something I can’t seem to avoid. Most of my 20s were committed to serving the cause. I’m still serving the cause, I’m just more mature and “realistic” about it. To me serving the cause meant serving in prayer for the betterment of the people, the collective, perusing, inspiring, encouraging a way of a better life, a good life, a quality of life filled with happiness, joy, and all that good stuff. This objective included addressing social issues affecting young people. Specifically suicide, addictions, abuse in its various forms, and misconceptions around identity. It was a life in the front lines of crisis response. It was clear to me in my early 20′s that the solution to strengthening nationhood involved the pursuance of well-being and health for all people. The workshops and seminars we held have been based on addressing grief, social responsibility, self-responsibility, emotional intelligence, and healing from historic traumas. The basis of all this was strengthening indigenous nationhood. The health and well-being of the people will be reflected in the health and well-being in the governance of their nation. That’s basic.

I couldn’t say no. I was told when someone asks you to step into a leadership role your not supposed to refuse. Two young women fresh in their voting age walked up to me. They told me they are serious in asking me to run for council. One was crying as she desperately stated if things didn’t change she was planning on moving away with her kids. She didn’t want her children to be exposed to the environment of Poundmaker. I couldn’t say no. I agreed to run as they requested and assured that I will not compaign. Leaders never campaigned in the old days, nor did they ever request to lead the people. They were chosen, they didn’t pursue it. In respect to that I didn’t campaign and only agreed to a 2 minute “campaign” speech. I recorded it and it’s on youtube and it did not request any votes, or a sales pitch. Election time came and I got in and was voted as a representative of Indian Affairs. A headman of Poundmaker Cree Nation subduing himself to the system of that has been imposed on the Indigenous people of canada since 1876. I didn’t like the idea. I loved my life serving people at the level of emotional health and overall well being. Now i’m to politically serve the people and yet serve Indian Affairs at the same time? How does that even make sense? I didn’t agree to be on council to establish a career for myself. I wanted to learn the system from direct experience, I wanted to fight the oppression and corruption that the system so deceitfully orchestrated.

The system has a majority of people complacent, apathetic, and dependent. Our people have been victimized by almost every colonial system that has treaded its way amongst our lands. It’s to the point that our own people are facilitating these same systems on our own people. The classical, typical oppressed oppressing the oppressed. It’s agonizing to the soul. It creates communal environments where social pathologies develop and thrive. It becomes the insanity of repeated patterns and cycles that feed these pathologies. It can feel hopeless, frustrating, and depressing. To the point where productivity in a direction of social liberation as a collective can feel almost impossible. People become divided and personal interests and agendas drive and influence community decision-making.

The upsetting reality of my Nation is that there is very little community decision-making. Poundmaker has been ruled by a regime governed in a dictatorship style. It is undoubtedly suffering from the social pathology of corruption. Charges have been laid and guilty pleas have been heard in the provincial courts. If you google Poundmaker reserve you can read all about the political history that has transpired in the last 20 years or so. And now I am in the thick of it. How does one work amongst corruption without becoming corrupt yourself? The answer is easy. Stand in the morals, stand in the values, tell the truth, and when in doubt consult the mentors. Take your time in decisions. The pressure is just an illusion painted by the system and those who reap and benefit from its insidious design.

The regime. How does the regime have its hold on the community and it’s people? The chief plead guilty to theft and became re-elected. A councillor plead guilty to theft and got re-elected where he later resigned to become the principal of the school, as recommended by the school committee, and approved by the quorum of the council. The school guidance councillor who was hired after the sentencing and after the election also plead guilty to theft (the guidance councillor is on temporary leave without pay because of another temporary job opportunity at a local organization). Currently, a councillor is in jail for assault on a high school student. Children are now exposed to immorality. One can argue that the environment is hostile to the psycho development on the future of Poundmaker. How is this circumstance best for the children? It’s not. This of course does reflect on the people of Poundmaker Cree Nation. It’s also a reflection of how entrenched colonialism has impacted our collective way of life, our unity, harmony, and values. People are in survival mode, a survival mode that has been programmed in the belief systems of those who have lived in impoverishment and have experienced traumas from residential schools. Shame. People become ashamed based on what they have done to others and what they have done to themselves. No one likes to feel shame and they avoid it by shaming others. Making others feel ashamed so that way they don’t have to feel their own shame, because someone else is ashamed and the attention is on them. People don’t want to acknowledge the reality that shame exists within them. I’m not pointing the finger at the people of Poundmaker, i’m speaking in a broad context in regards to shame. Everyone feels shame. As a result of this people avoid transparency and accountability. Fear and shame chokeholds the development of a community.

It’s important to know that there is no freedom or healing in holding people to their mistakes or supergluing labels to them. There must always be room and availability for a person to mend their mistakes, to correct a ‘wrong’, and dissolve an injustice; to apologize. It is the responsibility of the people who have experienced the injustice to decide when and how they can come to terms with their own healing and acceptance. It can’t be imposed or forced on them by the offender. The exposure of injustice is vital for things of this nature to move in a direction of transformation at an individual level, as well as a communal level.

“What is done in the dark will be brought to the light” (Johnny Cash), and the light must shine on shame. And only then will liberation and freedom be realized. I’m not here sitting back pretending that I am shameless and pointing fingers at people. No, I’m merely stating the reality that must be tackled by radical means. It’s not within my values and morals to sit back and allow the conditioning of oppression to continue. I can’t sit back silently and watch the abuse of the people carry on in the dark. And so I write and begin this personal blog on my experience of political life in the process of pursuing collective well-being. Our people are brilliant, smart, and very kind. It’s the system that has its grips on our potential. And all people who are experiencing the ridiculous insane cycles of abuse of power need to rise up and

compassionately address those who reap, and benefit from this system. We need to come together to work towards an alternative based on our indigenous nationhood and sovereignty. The world has yet to know the true presence of the indigenous.

Some may view this as political suicide. But from my experience in working with young people and children who have actually been suicidal – a successful career in politics based on the ignorance of morals and values? Not for me… The children must know integrity.

Colby Tootoosis
Councillor/Head Man
Poundmaker Cree Nation


This post originally appeared at: The Insane Realities of Indigenous Politics – A Prayer for Social Transformation. Republished here with the author’s permission.

(9) awesome folk have had something to say...

  • gibmorin - Reply

    February 13, 2014 at 6:49 pm

    the government chooses to look the other way when it comes to graft at the reserve level the last thing they want is for the grassroots movements to attain any level of power . their policies reflect this , they want us to keep fighting for the table scraps while our often unfairly elected leaders, dine on over priced steaks while we get the leftovers.

  • Kristie Elgersma - Reply

    February 13, 2014 at 7:07 pm

    I honor the hope, faith, courage and strength that shines within you.

    Keep speaking your truth. Living with and coming from authenticity and integrity in the arenas you travel in is so challenging.

    Your voice will be heard.

    And you are speaking for many who cannot and will not speak.

    Continue fighting for us all.

    You Matter.
    You are needed.
    And your contributions to this world are so important.

    Thank you.

    Warm regards,

    Kristie Elgersma

    Former Councillor, Village of Warburg.

  • Mark Joseph Sark - Reply

    February 13, 2014 at 8:47 pm

    Great article. Comes from the inside. Wish more of our future leaders would read articles like this.

  • Nadia - Reply

    February 14, 2014 at 12:33 am

    My heart ached as I read this; and tears filled my eyes.

    I could never understand what your people have gone through; but I have empathy and I have seen the things you have seen in your people, in my own life.

    I am a community outreach and development worker; I got into this work because I valued helping others, wanted to bring comfort, empathy and even just an ear to listen…

    I had a very traumatic childhood and knew what it was like to be homeless and I wanted to bring that valuable learning that I went through to my profession.

    I couldn’t have been more wrong; the more I worked in my field, the more I grew to abhor the system that oppressed those of us that wanted to help; so much red tape, so many rules…to the point where, as you said the oppressed were then oppressing the already oppressed out of frustration, anger, guilt, shame…a plethora of feelings created by the way the system operates.

    We are robbing our youth of their childhoods’ , and of all the good things that life has to offer…the things in life that really MATTER.

    Principles, morals, love, compassion, education, our time…it takes a village to raise a child…not absent community, absent parents and the school system raising our children.

    And today when I read your blog, I cried…because I read the truth.

    I don’t know if it means much, but I am there with you; and I support you and applaud you for saying what NEEDS to be said and standing your ground.

    You have my full support, as we are all one <3

  • Right on - Reply

    February 14, 2014 at 1:06 am

    Right on!

  • Jodi - Reply

    February 14, 2014 at 5:22 am

    A timely piece, I appreciate the depth in revealing the pragmatic realities and challenges of living in community.
    I will begin with a story.
    A few years back I was working with Survivors in BC and within a short time I lost a baby, my AA sponsor and my Dad. I normally would have turned to my uncle and my family back in Kinistin Sk. but due to circumstances I was unable to travel.
    I asked a co-worker for help. In short, he acted as an intercessor between this world and the spirit world, essentially, he went to battle for me. (I have had the unfortunate experience of having spiritual people misuse their power & believe me I was nervous about seeing someone outside of my Nippi family). We went to the beach at sunrise to do the work.
    I realized he was taking my pain away, and was suffering to uplift me, someone he wasn’t related to but cared enough about to help. I never will forget his integrity in sharing his gifts with me so I could remain grounded to raise my family.
    His actions convinced me that integrity is priceless. I trust someone implicitly and these young women imparted you with the gift of trust, hope, perhaps they sensed you have integrity or they watched you. Integrity is easily discounted in favour of power and politics, however remaining ethical is an ongoing responsibility and like resurgence, it is everyday, all day.

  • Lawrence - Reply

    February 15, 2014 at 4:16 pm

    Thank you for your insght. This is the struggle within the Gitxsan Nation also. It is desperate times for the true indigenous identity. Soon it will be swept away, by the tide of colonialism. Then a great cultures of the Indigenous Nations will disappear,on this generation’s watch.

  • Aakdewin - Reply

    February 20, 2014 at 6:01 pm

    I hear your words and I feel the same.

    What we must do is extend our hand to our entire nations (not just our bands) and to all Indigenous peoples. Status or not - they all belong. Each person has a gift and is a piece of the whole. We have to embrace each other. We have to stop treating each other as strangers and we have to stop having more faith in the Federal government than in ourselves. We have genius within our communities and we have the bravery to fully reclaim ourselves - but we MUST go beyond band level.

    The seventh generation is here. Resurgence is happening. We all must do better at networking and recognizing each other. In truly seeing each other.

    I don’t believe our Indigenous Nations will fade away. But we need to focus on ourselves - not on non-Indigenous opinions. We must not diminish ourselves in an effort to be accepted by non-Indigenous people. Their racism and fear is their limitation, not ours. We need to fully internalize the pride of our nations and to know that we aren’t going anywhere. This is our land. We are rising. We must extend our hands in friendship to non-Indigenous peoples but we will not compromise who we are because this is our land.


  • Graça Grauna - Reply

    March 6, 2014 at 4:39 am

    O colonialismo não é uma questão do passado; o colonismo tem uma face chamada neoliberalismo. Quero dizer também que estou muito comovida com o seu pensamento . Coragem, irão, coragem. Saudações indígenas, Graça Graúna (Brasil)

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