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  • Writer's pictureBrandon Robbins

The Gift of a Name

I am descended from Indigenous people. I am Haudenosaunee, Annsihnaabe from my Grandmother and it is rumoured that my grandfather was Black and Siksika, I have yet to explore Siksika roots as much as I have the Haundensauee and Anishinaabe only because the region where I grew up those resources were easier to find, yet it wasn’t all that easier to find either but you did have to know what you were looking for and ask for it. 

There was an offering in my high school for Aboriginal Studies, only offered to indigenous students. It was the first time I stepped into my heritage, and told people that I was who and what I was. There was shame, behind my not disclosing that fact, embarrassment behind that because I didn’t know enough about that history and my heritage. I am passing and looked and talked differently than those from the reserve bordering where I grew up. Yet most of them knew, they knew my aunt and her work in the community, how she immersed herself into the traditions and became recognized as part of their community. Not all of us had that privilege. We didn't do the work she did, I didn't know how. I didn’t know where to begin but this class was the gateway for me to explore my history and who I was. No one could help me reconnect to it.

My history was lost and with it any connection of who I was. I wasn’t the only one affected. My generation, my parents' generation was affected, and my grandmother’s too. None of us knew how to connect to our culture. We would ask and watch my grandmother's face fall because she didn’t have the answers we needed. In a sense, I feel her shame because she didn’t know how to help us. She couldn’t connect herself, her only way to connect to the culture was Powwow, where the community would come together, dancers, drummers and singers. Venturing around the circle and seeing the art in leather and beading. It was the only way any of us knew how to connect, a yearly celebration at the peak of summertime.  There were no other means to connect, if there were, no one knew who to ask. 

In later years my great Aunt became connected and her children were absorbed into the teachings and traditions I longed to be part of, parts I ached to learn. There is where I found the laws and heard stories about the sky woman and the twins she brought life to. Doors began to open for each of us, answering questions and helping many of my generation to connect to our collective culture in the way we each needed in our lives. My mother found art and she and my aunt craft and bead together, my mother grows her skills and attends circles where women bead and laugh together. While my journey is one of insight and story, finding writers Richard Wagasame and speakers like James Vukelich Kaagegaabaw and Dr. John Borrows to listen to and find meaning in what these individual laws are and what they mean to me. My small circle of peers explores the laws in the hope of exploring a deeper meaning and sharing those ideas.  

There is still much pain to heal, there are many atrocities that have happened to our culture in recent years and I find myself negotiating that intergenerational trauma that comes from our shared history. My clan might not have experienced cultural loss due to residential school in recent years. It may have been experienced by the generation before my grandmother, to the time of my great-grandfather.  But I am glad to have found the door that links me to my sense of self and spirituality. I was lucky though, to be given my traditional name before my great-aunt passed. In my culture, the eldest woman is the matriarch of the clan, and receives visions and from those images come our names. My cousin and I are the only ones who received names from her. Now there is a void, the matriarch's seat is empty. Few could replace her, not many have the level of knowledge to pass on. I would say my aunt would, but I don’t think she wants the responsibility and in my generation, it may fall to me and my cousin. It is very interesting to see what happens. In the meantime, I am living in gratitude to have learned what I have. Having a name that would connect me to all I need to know.

The name she left me with was Roià:tase( Low-ya Dah-say ). "He who is Handsome"

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