After back-to-back meetings ended in intense confrontations and near physical altercations, two kanien’kehá:ka women reflect on what they feel causes tension in community meetings, and asks why fellow community members can’t see one another’s opinions without judgement. (Megan Kanerahtenha:wi Whyte, The Eastern Door)
Meet in peace and use your inside voice
Kahenientha Amanda Cross
The past two community meetings in Kahnawake have ended in the most undesirable way. Added to that, neither meeting progressed to solve the issue of what Kahnawake’s approach will be to legislating cannabis in the community, a drug that was legalized in Canada October 17.
A community meeting is a place to discuss issues brought up within Kahnawake, in a professional and constructive way. Simply put, there should be no name-calling, finger pointing and accusing like a bunch of five-year olds in a playground.
Progress is supposed to be made yet nothing seems to go forward on files. Rather, sly remarks and accusations between community members are the norm.
Minor problems evolve into nasty arguments that have led to even nastier altercations between community members and Mohawk Council of Kahnawake chiefs.
It cannot be stressed enough that physical altercations are not permitted in a community meeting.
Why does it even have to be addressed?
What causes this outright rage at the root of the problem?
Not being able to finish what your saying without being cut off by another’s irrationally placed questions that could have easily been asked in open discussion – at the end of the presentation, preferably – is incredibly counterproductive. Nit-picking and manipulating are popular and childish strategies used among the adults and elders in the rooms of these meetings it seems.
On a side note, has anyone ever heard of pens? Maybe it’s just the age gap, but did no one else think it a good idea to bring a pen to a meeting, note down questions and wait to ask the question or make the point? Just food for thought.
Here are five points of order to consider before attending your next meeting.
Going into a meeting with the intention to start trouble and shout your opinion without thought to everyone else wanting to share, is the first fault of the nights like the one Tuesday, which started confrontational and ended abruptly after a particularly unpleasant screaming match.
The second mistake is thinking that there are different sides in the ‘with us or with the enemy’ mode of divisive politicians. Everyone should be on the same side, the side that benefits Kahnawake.
The third issue is raising voices. Since when has raising your voice at someone been accepted in community meetings? Our ancestors are shaking in their graves for all the hate that is being thrown around at one another. Since when does yelling at someone help him or her to understand and appreciate your side?
The fourth point is physical intimidation. Anger at someone’s position should be dealt with in a mature manner, not charging at council chiefs no matter how horrible you may think they are at their job.
Fifth is the retaliation. Why would you throw gasoline in a fire? You might expect some threats from the rare radical community member, but not from someone on council. Once retaliation is involved, that is when everything turns to chaos.
There are much better ways to deal with an emotional community member.
Tense rooms and pressured voices is the new norm for Kahnawake’s community meetings, and its far from beneficial. This should be carefully considered before Tuesday’s education AGA.
Voices are raised when another is speaking, conversations overlap when an opinion is made, which is then undermined by the overpowering “passions” of another with a louder voice.
How can a law or regulation be passed with such inadequate behaviour? In a classroom, a teacher will stop the lecture when there are interruptions while someone is speaking.
There shouldn’t be the need of a teacher in a meeting full of adults that are supposed to behave the way they want their children to behave.
Preaching about respect and lecturing a person about their behaviour isn’t the typical approach to discussing community issues, but maybe when a youth is disturbed by the actions of her elders it’s worth considering.
Kahnawake is a hurt, blame-filled, chaotic mess that no one seems to want to take the time to fix.
The tension between the MCK and some in the community is out of hand. A poison has spread in discussions causing traditions to be forgotten in seconds.
Respect is engraved in our minds from the moment we enter this world, and needs to be called on. The language, habits, ceremonies and even food revolve around acknowledgement and paying respect. These lessons are forgotten the instant calm waters are disturbed and an ego is scratched.
Tradition needs to re-root itself among Kahnawa’kehró:non in order for any forward movement to happen.
Cannabis opened a can of worms that should have never existed in the first place.
It’s a sad time to see your supposed mentors and elders acting with such low standards.
Fix it, please. The next generation doesn’t want to deal with your mistakes all because you couldn’t have a decent debate.
Behaviour is communication, trauma is danger
Megan Kanerahtenha:wi Whyte
The struggle to feel grounded or safe or in control when emotions are high.
Anxiety, anger, fear.
Ready to fight.
Ready to flight.
Ready to freeze or disappear.
Feeling hopeless, helpless.
Giving into it.
Fighting against it.
Always on edge.
Small things feel like big things — like threats.
Holding too close it suffocates.
Pushing too far, its cold.
Multigenerational trauma in all families, regardless of race, ethnicity or geographic location, impacts the way people relate to each other and to themselves.
Through being under consistent threat, the brain is remapped to always feel in danger and never quite at rest.
In fact, being at rest can sometimes feel terrifying.
Instead, people become primed to always be ready to react rather than think.
Thinking about it, after all, never saved the man from the bear in the forest.
It was the man who ran or fought or played dead that survived.
Within Indigenous communities, multigenerational trauma is not just about surviving a bear.
It is about surviving residential schools, the ‘60s scoop, the Indian Act and all forms of systematic assimilation and/or genocide, which often left communities to cope with not only the loss of culture, of land and identity, but also the loss of connection.
We lost our roots through the loss of language.
We lost our territories through the lack of language.
We lost our families to legislation and “schooling.”
We lost our selves as we walked through the halls being told to wash the Indian out.
We lost our trust that someone would take care of us because all we knew was abuse and compliance in order to survive.
We lost our ability to form relationships with partners or our children, because we never relearned how to care.
And because all human beings were hardwired to connect, we had to wonder how our communities would feel connected when all we knew since colonization was how to disconnect.
And if our communities lost all the tools once used to build belonging and purpose, where would we find it?
Gangs? Multiple partners? Alcohol and drugs?
More often than not, communities are labeled as low income, addicted, violent and unworthy of support without acknowledging the root cause.
Remaining unacknowledged, stereotypes like these impact the justice system, politics, health care, education and access to any services non-Indigenous people have access to.
Funding is cut.
Laws are changed.
“They’re too hopeless, so let us assimilate them to save them from themselves.”
It is a cycle of colonization that continues to occur because the challenge is not the community or the system, it is the trauma that families carry and the ways it repeats itself within all of our relationships.
So when we reflect upon the events that have occurred within our community the past week, all I can see is multigenerational trauma.
I see a council that was trying to do what it felt was best to protect the community from the negative outcomes of the potentially lawless land of cannabis.
I also see a council that triggered the trauma of our people without truly realizing it.
Some saw council as “overriding” the voice of the people, making council the colonizer, which then triggers every emotion families have carried towards someone who took control of their lives.
This abuser can be the system, the government, the Indian agent, residential schools, an abusive parent or partner, or a scary teacher.
Suddenly, what felt like a good decision has in fact caused the worst pain imaginable, which is the staple of trauma.
Reliving trauma as if it is happening right now is part of multigenerational trauma and when we are unaware of how our narratives unfold, we find ourselves acting as if every person is a threat.
For some community members, the council was the threat and it was the trauma.
For the council, the community members may have also been the threat and were the trauma.
In this moment, we all relived the roles we replay generation after generation because our original trauma remains unhealed.
So when I think about how to change behaviors at community meetings, I cannot give one solid solution.
What we need is to become trauma-informed, so that we are aware of how actions trigger our shared history so we can find different ways to work with the community.
We also need to become trauma-informed so that we understand ourselves, our triggers and our ways to regulate — to feel safe.
Otherwise, we will relive our trauma narratives in an endless cycle of fighting, running, or disappearing in a mental fog.
At the end of the day, none of this is about cannabis, or membership or education or leadership.
It is about finding a solution to how we can feel safe again to relate to each other, or how we can feel safe again to trust, to grow, to adapt, to take risks, to problem-solve, to create, to imagine, to dream and to build.
We have to face the feelings we were taught to suppress.
We have to face the trauma we learned to numb or distance.
We have to find the courage and support within each other to take care of what was hurt generations ago.
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