Episode six of Working It Out Together teaches us about community coming together to raise and support its children.
Prior to colonization, the strength of the family was integral to the survival of the community. Dr. Carl Hele, Director of First Peoples Studies at Concordia University, describes the mechanism of the community. Traditionally, it was the family that was the primary unit of society and it was the entire community that acted to raise responsible, healthy, productive children; family and community were one. The family held the power in the community.
However, the ancient ways were nearly devastated by colonialism, residential schooling, and rapid social change. Diseases killed off the elders, robbing communities of their knowledge base, and dependence on the mother-father-child concept of the family unit meant that the extended familial bonds began to break. Later, when the Residential School System was implemented by the Canadian government, additional fractures occurred with the removal of the children. The loss of the children meant families lost their purpose for existence. Host Waneek Horn-Miller states, “I think that the fracturing of the family was a huge effort by the government, by the Indian Act, by everything. They have tried to fracture our identity, our family units, our sense of security, our sense of well being, of who we are.” She adds, “But it is an unwillingness to give up that is going make families and communities strong again.”
However, many of today’s Indigenous children are lacking family support. They are not being raised in their culture, but they are not being raised fully in western culture either. This means they do not know who they are or where they are; they are caught in between. Dr. Hele believes this is due to the lack of strong community based family. “It takes a community to raise a kid and it takes a community to heal itself. It is this idea that family is centre and culture and ceremony and language are centre that makes for a stronger community.”
This episode takes a closer look at Conrad Mianscum of Mistissini, Quebec, and his family’s tradition of snow mobile racing. Conrad’s grandfather, David Mianscum, had a successful racing career and in the traditional ways he passed his knowledge on to his grandson. Despite choosing a more modern career path, Conrad’s grandfather kept Conrad grounded in the ways traditional of their ancestors, and so his passing was a significant loss to Conrad. This loss left Conrad shattered, but despite this, his family and his community are supporting him as he grieves, giving Conrad the support he needs to carry on in his grandfather’s stead. Those supporting Conrad have acted to help fuel his warrior spirit and in so doing are igniting their own, to become a more cohesive community, healthier and better able to support their youth.
Nathaniel Bosum, a former snow mobile racer and now motivational speaker, shares his story of depression in the hopes that he can help support other youth who risk losing their way on their paths to success. He hopes his story motivates the youth and allow them to enjoy life.
This episode proved to be a very touching story of family. Admittedly, when I was watching, I found myself welling up with tears with each tribute Conrad paid to his grandfather. The love and respect he carries for him is quite evident, and clearly a driving force that continues in his life today.