June is Indigenous History Month and the recent discovery of the remains of 215 children at the site of a residential school has made us all think about our history and what we can do to support the Indigenous community.
We spoke with Nadia George, an award winning Mi’kmaq-Canadian actress, media personality, and active advocate for the equity of Indigenous Communities, on IG Live to discuss her experiences with mental health and how non-Indigenous folks can better support the Indigenous community.
She had a difficult childhood as a result of generational trauma, passed down from her parents who had already faced many difficulties. Her father was in and out of the prison system.
At 18 years of age, Nadia became a mother and had to navigate through toxic and abusive relationships. She realized that she had to accept support in order to change her situation. Her life experiences led her to study social work, and through her own education and research, she learned that traditional education did not provide a holistic approach that was inclusive of the Indigenous community.
“There are over 600 nations within Canada. We all have our own teachings and cultures and traditions and languages and histories, and to be able to group people in that way, I just don't think is doable. It's really about making sure that we are connecting the community. Energy transfer is so important and starting to change the discourse around hiding mental illness and hiding who we are, and hiding our traumas, and being able to create spaces where people can share and truly be heard. Some of our sharing circles and our talking circles literally are just one person sharing their story.”
How do we even begin to start the healing process?
“What we've come to realize about traumatic experiences is that we don't necessarily need to have the full narrative to be able to process it. We are able to feel in our brains, to think our bodies, to feel differently about an event without having that actually [happening to us personally].
This is something that is really new, that's coming out in the complex trauma field. But this is something that we've been doing as Indigenous people for generations, around drumming and art in beadwork and singing, and really bringing our holistic bodies into those moments and allowing for that whole healing process.”
If we are looking at how do we, as non-Indigenous people, start to approach that, it's really about listening. We have to listen and we have to be open to the idea that our way, the colonial way, is not always the right way to do things. That there are different ways we can do things. And if someone doesn't know or feels uncomfortable, I always tell people, “Reach out to your friendship centers.” You can find Indigenous authors within the helping field that have written books on Indigenous helping approaches and how to implement those.
How can we support?
I think we have to start changing the way we see how we're supporting Indigenous people. Conversations like this are great because I'm in a position where I'm okay to answer these questions, but it's not for everyone. And even sometimes myself, I will be very honest with people and be like, “I appreciate it. I just don't have the capacity at this moment.”
As I was learning more about the whole Pride situation in the LGBTQ two-spirited community and trans community, is that when we get something wrong, like the way we say something or someone's name or their nation or things like that, instead of saying “sorry,” say, “Thank you for gifting me that knowledge.” Because then we take accountability for it. We're not putting it on somebody else.
“Listening is the number one thing. Our voices have been silenced for so long, and we've been told for so long that we were incorrect. That we're the ones that have caused all the grief and trouble and we need to settle down. And now it's starting to become very clear to Canadians the true history. The real story of what's happened in Canada. I continue to call it the Canadian genocide, because that's exactly what it was. It was a genocide of Indigenous peoples by Canada.”
Recognition, Representation, and Reconciliation
I'm starting to see our own faces in those spaces [like Sephora]. My hope is we are going to start creating more representation. And those are the three R's: recognition, representation, and reconciliation. As long as we continue to follow those things, that beautiful change is going to be made.
Nadia’s book recommendations on Indigenous History and issues with Canada:
3) Indigenous Writes: First Nation, Métis and Inuit Issues in Canada By Chelsea Vowel
5) Seeking Mino-Pimatisiwin: an Aboriginal approach to helping By Michael Anthony Hart
6) Path with No Moccasins Play by @shirley.cheechoo
University of Alberta Free online course
About Nadia George:
Nadia George is an award winning Mi’kmaq-Canadian actress & media personality based in Toronto. Nadia’s work focuses on uplifting young voices, advocating for changes in the discourse around reproductive health; While also addressing stigmas around contemporary Indigenous identity. Nadia is very open and public about her Advocacy for the equity of Indigenous Communities and People. You can learn more about her on her website - https://www.nadiageorge.com/