Monday, August 8, 2016


A Denesuline Warrior!  

Yesterday, August 7, 2016, I received bad news.  First I heard my uncle passed at 92 years old. While I was still processing this news, I got the dreaded phone call telling me the tragic news of my older brother’s passing. He was only 58 years old. Born in Uranium City, Saskatchewan and was raised in Fort Chipewyan and Fort McMurray Alberta. He died from complications due to his injury last year and excessive drinking. This hit me harder because Rossi and I were very close and he had so much life to be lived yet.

I’ve had a day to process what has happened. I think I am in the anger stage of the grief spectrum.  He was too young to die, damn it! (I could hear Rossi saying here, if you want me to swear for you sis, I will – I never swear!)

If I were to be honest, I would say he died of heartbreak.  The last year of his life I saw him give up. He gave up on waiting for the type of love he deeply craved, an unconditional love, from some of his children and grandchildren, brothers and sisters.  He gave up on the travel that he yearned to do and the ‘60s car he would buy to take him on his travels.  He abandoned his plans of going travelling to Europe on a freighter and going to NASCAR races.  But when I noticed that he gave up on music, which has always lit up his life no matter what was happening, I knew he had also given up on life.

I could see it in his eyes when I last saw him just a couple of weeks ago.  The abject sadness overshadowed his smiles and laughter.  The withdrawing.  The spark he had was gone.  He was tired.  He could not fight any longer. And he simply gave up trying.

In January 2015 I wrote a blog about him after he was beaten into unconsciousness after he intervened to help a woman who was being assaulted by her boyfriend.  This act of selflessness caused him to lose some of his mobility and left him with permanent brain damage, which made him dependent on others for the first time.  I think that was the day he died, but it took his spirit longer to let go.  That is how much he craved love and he was willing to keep alive until he got it, but sadly it eluded him. 

Rossi second on the left, next to his brother Roger
Rossi didn’t have an easy life.  He was a product of the Indian Residential School system. He entered it when he was just 5 years old. He was haunted by the memories of what he experienced over the twelve years of his life he gave there.  For years he kept his feelings and memories hidden masked by his jokes and laughter.  Until one day he decided to go to therapy; and that is when he started drinking. Some therapists are not equipped to handle the type of trauma Rossi and other residential school survivors endured.

He was an intelligent man and knew so much about politics, genealogy, human behaviour, and music.  He loved flying so he became a pilot; it gave him a freedom he couldn’t get on the ground. And when he couldn’t do that, he loved to drive. He also had an innate ability to navigate, I think, he had a built in GPS in his DNA.  He was my compass, my navigator, when we were together I knew I would never be lost. He was also my protector. When I need him he was always there and I hope I was also there for him.

He is gone.  A deep integral part of me is also gone.  Who I was to him and who I was around him. We never had an argument, never used harsh words with one another, and never judged one another. That is not to say he didn’t have a quick temper or was moody, I just knew when to stop pushing him and leave him be.  Our familial bond is gone and I am left alone without an anchor and no navigator.  Floating and lost.
Ultimately, what took his life - which people often skirt and make excuses around - is ALCOHOL.  ALCOHOL killed my brother, sucked his spirit and left him empty. This is where my anger is hovering.

ALCOHOL is the reason he intervened in breaking up that fight over a year ago. The man who attacked him was drunk or on drugs.

ALCOHOL took away his reason for living and broke a beautiful human being.
In Canada, many Indigenous people are dying an untimely death due to ALCOHOL.  We have to change the conversation we as a nation are having about why this is happening. We have to change our story and our belief. In particular, we have to change our belief that once people are adults we can’t influence them to stop drinking.    I don’t have the answer on how but I have a commitment to change that belief.
Rossi’s death will not be in vain.
I am challenging, you the reader, to do something about this too because everyone is impacted by alcohol abuse in some form or another.

There already exist, and has for over 40 years an institution in Alberta that has transformed many lives. Maybe we’ve forgotten about it. But it is there. Please have another look at Supporting Nechi Institution: Centre for Indigenous learning, the only Indigenous institute that uses culture and experiential learning as a gateway to reach the spirit of its indigenous and non-indigenous students.

Rossi was a game changer.  He over came and fought his ghosts, maybe not successfully, but they didn’t own him.  He never became bitter nor twisted. He was not an angry person; he was always a kind and gentleman and held his head high with integrity. 

May 2016, Fort McMurray, Alberta (Fire) 
Our world has loss a great human being when Rossi Samuel Deranger died, August 7th, 2016. 

There are many other Rossis out there; maybe there is one in your family.  There is hope to help those people, and that hope is you.

My friend and writer, wrote this wonderful piece on my brother Rossi for the Fort McMurrayToday paper.  Thank you Therese.  :)  

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Perspective, good or bad, Your Choice

Earlier this year, I took on a challenge to express my gratitude over the course of one hundred days.  The fact that I finished the challenge is no surprise to me because I knew I would complete it. What surprised me was how this challenge impacted and changed me.
I think you'd agree that social platforms are flooded with overwhelming negative information, drama, and not enough positive stories. We spend more time on the Internet than any previous time, this information is bound to impact us .  And it takes a concerted effort every day to see the positive impact around us because we are bombarded with so much negativity.  For example, if you read ten positive comments on your newsfeeds and one negative comment, it is the negative comment, which stands out and stays with you longer, right? 
Well, this challenge made me more aware of how I was responding to everyday situations. It provided an opportunity to challenge my thinking. Taking on the challenge flipped my thinking around because I found that the more I saw things is a positive light the more positive I became. It is not about just seeing the good but seeing what is happening through compassionate eyes. Moreover, I found myself creating more positive moments if I saw the day being overburdened with negativity.  I made a decision to see create the positive I wanted to see and to be grateful for the smallest thing.
However, I've experienced the darkest days of my life during this challenge. The death of my mother hit me especially hard. It is difficult to comprehend how someone so important in my life in no longer in my world. Then in May 2016, I watched my family and friends lose everything to a wildfire in Fort McMurray, Alberta.  

My world was changing and not everything was sunshine and roses.  The occurrence in Fort McMurray cemented how different it was going to be without my mom.  I am certain some family will be setting up home elsewhere in the Province.  No more impromptu family gatherings.  
Yet, I turned my mind and my heart to the brighter side of those darker days. It is not about forcing myself to be delusional or to be an optimist but more about seeing the good in spite of the bad. As I see it, we have a choice in how we react to situations.  You can either see the positive influences around you or you can be a victim of your circumstances. 

The power and strength are within each of us.  Create those positive moments for yourself and others around you.  Be an architect of your life, create the best life you can dream, and be thankful for each day. 

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Fort McMurray on Fire!

Words can't express what it feels like to watch your hometown burn.  I watch in horror from the safety of my home in Ottawa, trying desperately to get confirmation that family and friends made it to safety. Thankfully, all family members and friends have been accounted for and are safe. They may have lost their home but they have their life. I was finally able to get some sleep late last night.

Once the reality sets in, they will have to turn their mind to the aftermath of the wildfires that have destroyed their homes, personal possessions and their lives.  I worry too that this crisis will have an everlasting mental and physical impact on them as they struggle to rebuild.

How do you get over your home where you believe is your sanctuary, is now gone.  I spoke with my sister who said, it is now sinking in that they lost everything. She said, that morning the sky was blue and it appeared to be like any normal day, but she was so wrong.  When she saw the flames behind her house she didn't have a moment to pack and left without packing.  I am sure from that moment everything was a blur.  Over 1600 homes were destroyed in the fire, and it is not over yet.  Many of my immediate family members lost everything but the clothes on their back in the fire.

I never thought I would see such devastation but I am glad there has been no reports of any fatalities. The only main road out was closed for several hours and everyone headed North. Soon they will have to head south and drive through the burnt city.  I pray that they make it.

My home town, gone!

The Province is prepared to help out in the affected areas.

How do you rebuild from this?  But knowing my family's tenacity, they will regroup and rebuild.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Canadian First Nations in Crisis

Attawapiskat First Nation
Since the news broke regarding the 11 suicide attempts over the weekend in Attawapiskat First Nation, a northern Ontario community, I have been reading and listening to a number of different news reports on this latest crisis.

Canadian politicians, First Nations politicians, academics and sympathetic Canadians are all weighing in to offer solutions. What I am hearing is the Canadian government should provide more funding to First Nations because what they are given now is wholly inadequate to address all these problems on First Nation reserves. A former Aboriginal Affairs Minister stated that the members of Attawapiskat First Nation should be relocated because they are too isolated and have no possibility for a viable economic economy. Others are saying this is a chronic problem for many First Nations, and Canadians need to put pressure on their government to take action.  The bottom line I get from all this noise is that Canadians and the government should do something about this. 

However, money alone will not solve this crisis without a concrete plan of action created by the community. For example, I know many people who have received over $100K in residential school payments and it didn’t improve their life.  In fact, in some instances it made it worse. 

Everyone is saying they need this and they need that but I have not heard one politician, either Federal or First Nation say, what does Attawapiskat want and how can we support them? What have the parents and youth said about a solution? Who is listening to them? 

Another youth said this about the suicide attempts in her community. It is beyond discouraging to hear her talk about this happening in Canada in the 21 century.  And at the end of the day, members are saying it is not that easy to leave“Just move” is no answer.  This is a complicated set of problems, which I believe can only be effectively resolved by the people within the community.

Members must be engaged in conversations that start with taking responsibility for what is happening in their communities. Until the members take responsibility and collectively decide on a solution  to address these issues, they will continue to have one crisis after another. The community needs first to imagine a future in which their lives have meaning and worth, and then to take all the steps to make that future come into being. There is hope and all lives matter.

My community of Fort Chipewyan, Alberta was also affected by youth suicide. Like other First Nation communities there is a sense of overwhelming apathy and hopelessness but we must move pass that if we are to survive. I often hear people in Chip say that these problems are all over the country and not just in Fort Chipewyan. True. The question then becomes what are WE going to do about it? 

There is no one fix, it is a multifaceted and complex issue that requires the ingenuity of the entire community working together to come up with a solution that works for them. 

As a start, Attawapiskat is holding meetings for their members on how to address this crisis.  I hope everyone is engaged and part of these conversations and solutions. Perhaps, a facilitator can assist the community in their meetings to focus on priorities and to develop a structured plan for moving forward.  

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