Reflections about misuse of Terrorist Legislation and ‘Indigenous Extremism’ from a Canadian Former Violent Extremist: “Picking fights will likely get you punched in the face”
Daniel Gallant is a BC writer, researcher and social worker. Gallant is identified as an expert media consultant and has presented both nationally and internationally to national security teams relating to extremism and terrorism. As an identified expert on deradicalization from violent extremism Gallant bridges his personal experience as a former violent extremist, professional counselor/social-worker and academic researcher. Gallant now has undertaken the study of law to compliment his activism and academic work in order to identify possible issues pertaining to terrorist legislation and indigenous rights in Canada. Daniel Gallant has been described as a fierce advocate who frequently and passionately writes and speaks about topics relating to his research and scholarship that others tend to shy away from.
In the last week there have been two Canadian terrorist attacks. The first on a military base in Quebec where two armed forces members were run-over with a car driven by terrorist, Martin Roleau, who was then subsequently shot and killed by RCMP. The following day soldier Patrice Vincent died as a result of the attack.
Within 48 hours later there was a tumultuous attack on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. A gunman jumped from a car then shot and killed Cpl. Nathan Cirillo where he stood on guard at the War Memorial grounds. There are a lot of questions being asked in media reports about the past investigations on these particular terrorists, who they were and why there was not extra measures taken to ensure public safety.
As security and law enforcement have stated repeatedly these attacks are different because they are ‘lone wolf’ attacks and these types of attacks are harder to track due to the fact that people are allowed to think and say what they want without impingement of those inherent rights in Canada. However, this response from Canadian leaders and security teams opens up other lines of inquiry that seem to be put on the backburner as our nation is mourning these horrific terrorist attacks.
The same day that Martin Roleau attacked a Quebec military base the Aboriginal People’s Television Network reported that Clayton Thomas-Muller, a First Nations activist with the Idle No More movement has been put under surveillance by Canadian national security teams. The same national security team that indicated they could not infringe upon the rights of Martin Roleau who was arrested and questioned last summer. Yet, it seems that government and national security teams are drawing their focus to First Nations groups without the same restraint that they are offering real terrorist threats.
I, the author of this article, also wear the hat of an academic researcher. In my research at the University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC) I initiated an exploration into the question if there was an inappropriate application of terrorist legislation being evoked by government and national security teams against indigenous peoples in Canada. We must remember that Louis Riel, the leader of an indigenous rebellion who is now been recognized as a leader, was once labeled a terrorist and was convicted and sentenced to death for what was labeled “treason”. Legislation is consistently applied to indigenous peoples in an abusive and oppressive manner. The misapplication of terrorist legislation against indigenous peoples could be said to date back to the 1885, and likely even before that.
Oct. 23, 2014, BC’s Provincial Premier Christy Clark has publicly addressed an exoneration of six Tsilhqot’in war chiefs who were hung in the interior region of BC. In 1864 the Tsilhqot’in demanded that a road crew who were building pathways to the gold fields were attacked and killed over 20 people non-aboriginal people. The attacks were in response to the non-indigenous invaders who initiated a racist attack upon Canada’s first peoples, which included a purposeful use of biological warfare in the form of smallpox. Canadian Supreme Court Justice David Vickers acknowledged that the landmark land title case of the Tsilhqot’in, which ruled in favor of indigenous land title rights, was attributed to the stance that these war chiefs took and were later hanged. Premier Christy Clark made a speech that in BC’s legislature that these men were not treasonous traitors and exonerated them for the crimes they were hung for. These war chiefs are historical hero’s, not terrorists.
I was able to identify reports from 2012 that indicated many First Nations people, groups and communities were added to terrorist watch lists. Moreover, it was reported to me by an RCMP superintendent that local officers were being trained by national security teams in order to deal with local First Nations extremists and their anti-industry allies. It was this conversation with RCMP that flagged initial concerns about the possibilities of the misapplication of terrorist legislation by the Canadian government that would, at minimum, synthesize attributes of further systemic racism and suppression of indigenous rights.
It also became apparent in this research and noteworthy that the federal government had put indigenous scholar Dr. Cindy Blackstock under surveillance as well due to her vocal and substantiated and valid Human rights claim against the federal government for it’s mistreatment of indigenous children in child welfare care. According to the 2006 wen;de research report the mistreatment in question has resulted in nearly an average of 400 child deaths each year. Historical oppression and genocidal programs have happened in Canada, and according to experts and scholars it is evident that it is still happening. Justice Murray Sinclair indicated that in recent years Canadian governments were involved in genocidal program against indigenous peoples in Canada.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper is being openly chastised for his failure to respectively act on the issue of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. With a not-so-distant past we know that the Canadian legal system was forced to respond when a BC Judge was convicted and later died in prison for his abuse against vulnerable indigenous women. More recently RCMP are being openly scrutinized due to a report issued by an international Human Rights group that alleges RCMP members are raping and abusing aboriginal women in northern BC. The same region of the province where national security teams were training local RCMP members to respond to what they are labelled as extremists and potentially terrorists in the area.
This can be a very troubling dynamic for any person who understands systemic racism, oppression and human rights. The United Nations have recently reported that Canada is falling short in regards to issues relating to levels of trust with all levels of government. The reasons for the mounting distrust with our current government is due to the systemic abuse and ongoing disregard for indigenous rights to land title, indigenous education and a lack of response to systemic racism which does include the mass amounts of missing and murdered indigenous women in Canada.
When looking to the historic track record of government and law enforcement in Canada there is insurmountable evidence of violence, systemic racism, oppression and genocidal programs launched against indigenous peoples. This is still continuing today. According to indigenous scholar Bonita Lawrence First Nations peoples are the only group in Canada who face a constant threat of military force for asserting their inherent rights. With all of these issues in consideration is it really appropriate to apply terrorist legislation to indigenous peoples who are merely attempting to assert their legal rights?
It appears that terrorist legislation is likely to start being applied and abused as another form of systemic abuse against indigenous peoples. There are practical and real ways that we can resolve political issues rather than attempting to utilize terrorist legislation as a colonial weapon against indigenous people, groups and community.
Concerns with Terrorist Legislation
It seems there is substantiated evidence to facilitate a conclusion that this is already in process. Clayton Thomas-Muller is but only one of many concerned citizens asserting indigenous legal rights in Canada while the government is attempting to label him as an extremist and or terrorist. Muller is not alone in these seeming misapplications of terrorist legislation. The BC Civil Liberties Association, which is a team of legal professionals who advocate against systemic abuse, have indicated the blanket investigations by CSIS and RCMP against normal citizens include First Nations and anti-industry protestors violates Constitutional Rights of Canadians. This is becoming an increasingly contentious issue since the attacks on Parliament Hill.
Twenty minutes after the attacks Prime Minister Stephen Harper purported that national security teams will soon receive expanded powers. Security specialists are now criticizing this response. Professor Roland Paris at the University of Ottawa said that Canadians should be on guard when it comes to their own government after the recent attacks.
Reflections of a Former Extremist
What has become concerning for me as a former extremist engaged with counter-extremist-narrative initiatives, as an academic and a current student of law is that our government may utilize terrorist legislation in an inappropriate manner, and perhaps even abusive application of terrorist legislation.
Researchers indicate that aggressive tactics will result in further entrenchment of extremist mindsets and this may result in the opposite effect than what was originally intended. If we want to decrease violent attacks the solution to further the tensions between government and active extremists, according to experts and critics, would be foolhardy and contradictory.
One thing to consider is that if we begin to utilize Canadian terrorist legislation against indigenous peoples and their socio-political allies there is a possibility of breeding extremists. Indigenous peoples have been under attack by colonial governments since European contact. They were imposed upon by a government entrenched in racial, religious and legal supremacist doctrines that are still in place today. Yet, it seems the collectivity of First Nations only intends to rightfully walk towards healing for all Canadians.
First Nations have proven to be respectful cultural groups that are more than willing to share land and resources. First Nations peoples have not declared war, nor does that seem to be an intention of any indigenous group. Indigenous peoples are participants in Canadian government, universities and law as professionals and human rights advocates. First Nations are also teaching Canadians how to heal, even in the most extreme cases such as myself.
Entire First Nations communities have embraced my path as a former white supremacist simply because healing is possible. I believe it is time for Canada to consider that the perhaps our government and national security teams should consider:
- a) that First Nations are at the heart of Canadian society and we need not attempt to criminalize nor be threatened by their inherent legal rights, which result in illegal surveillance and misapplication of terrorist legislation
- b) that perhaps First Nations culture holds a key to what the government considers to be counter-violent-extremist initiatives
- c) reconsideration of aggressive national security tactics and to consider safeguards of misuse of terrorist legislation against indigenous peoples
Perhaps First Nations culture should be embraced by the Canadian government as it is inherently non-violent, unlike the insurmountable evidence that suggestions Canadian government is abusive and violent. Perhaps First Nations could teach Canadians how to develop strategies against a violent abuser or terrorist. I do not suggest that First Nations should be leading national security, what I am suggesting is that we as a nation should consider our own actions and behaviors especially in regards to First Nations issues and national security. What can we do as a nation to offer our own citizens what they need in order to decrease the violence that is surely going to erupt if we continue down an aggressive path, do we really need to create enemies within our own borders?
I believe that Canada’s relationship with our First Nations peoples reflects and represents the direction that we are going as a country. The first relationship to exist in Canada was the European colonizers and indigenous peoples. This state of this respective first Canadian relationship will determine the direction of our national identity. The world is watching and the UN has responded. If we as a nation decide to apply a fear mongering approach and reject the inherent rights of indigenous peoples and remain determined to make them feel like an enemy within, then it is unlikely that the Canadian government will not be able to treat any citizens in a manner that is conducive with Canadian values. We do NOT need to create enemies. It is time our government works on improving relationships by listening to the people they are in relationship with. Grievances that violent extremists have will become more legitimate if Canada continues to trample on the inherent rights of Canadians, and this is especially true for First Nations.
Picking fights will likely get you punched in the face.
First, I want to introduce you to my teacher and brother Gary Moostoos.
Before I tell you about the incident that screams discrimination against Gary Moostoos on behalf of OXFORD Properties Group Inc., I want to offer you a quick bio about myself, which will make more sense by time you get to the end of this article.
My name is Daniel Gallant and I am a former violent white supremacist. I was a street kid for many years in the downtown eastside of Vancouver. I suffered sexual and physical abuse as a child. I was angry and lost. Since that time I changed my life. At the age of 26 I started post-secondary school with a grade seven education. After my first year of school is when I met Gary Moostoos, which was about 12 years ago. Since that time I have worked as a frontline human services worker, group home manager, counselor, researcher and advocate. I now have a BA in First Nations Studies and a Masters in social work, which Gary Moostoos is included within. I am currently a student of law in Kamloops, BC. My public work can be found in the media throughout the world. I am currently the director of Exit Canada, which is a non-profit that assists other violent extremists to leave violent lifestyles.
I tell a story of how Gary and my other friend Jerry have taught me lessons. This story called Scars of Past won a writer’s award at the UNBC Weaving Words National Indigenous Storytelling festival in Prince George during 2013. This is attributed and dedicated to Gary and Jerry.
…so basically my point is that without the support and love from people like my teacher and brother Gary Moostoos I would likely have continued on with my violent rampages and not experienced the profound degree of change that I have been gifted. Now more about OXFORD, Gary and the issue at hand…
Gary Moostoos is a First Nations Cree Elder in Edmonton, Alberta; Gary is from Sturgeon Lake Cree Nation.
Gary’s work is recognized across Canada and he worked along with Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings across the nation. Media, Edmonton Police Services and the community of Edmonton have recognized Gary as an elder, teacher and healer.
Gary Moostoos has dedicated his life to assisting and supporting indigenous peoples who are in need. Gary’s commitment to helping people started over a quarter century ago. He worked in a hospital supporting people whom were sick, then as a youth worker for many years he assisted youngsters in connecting with cultural practices and spiritual teachings. Gary currently is employed as he works with homeless populations and survivors of the residential school system.
Instead of recounting his words I am going to offer you Gary’s facebook post of an incident he faced this week at the downtown Edmonton City Centre:
“Oh my gosh I was eating noodles at City Center food court & a couple Security approach & stand over me as I eat. They asked for my name I asked Why? The one says that I looked suspicious & look like a person they banned. I asked who was this person & that they see me every day as I shop there & have to walk through there everyday to get to work. They then said I had to go. I asked to speak to the supervisor. Then she came with another fellow. She took a picture of me and said that I was associating with people who are banned & known criminals. I said I worked for the homeless and an Elder & I associate with whom ever needs support. Soon there was 8 of them & they asked me to leave my meal & go. I kept my composure I did not swear or was rude. 12 security escorted me out and said I was banned for 6 months. People were telling me they were banning native people all day. So when they approached me I turn my video on my phone. I wanna cry with all sorts of emotions running through me mostly NOW I feel how my inner city folks feel when they are targets. I don’t even wanna listen to the video. What should I do? I made a few calls but it leads back to one of the security that escorted me out… “
Aside from the racism Gary faces everyday in Edmonton, which I have witnessed first hand, he is now being condemned by a security team for merely doing his job. This is gross application of discriminative property rights in quasi-public areas conducted by a team of individuals who appear to have little regard for vulnerable populations and indigenous peoples.
I want to add a few more pieces of information about Gary Moostoos [see bottom for links to Gary’s work]. I include this link to my master’s thesis in social work because Gary has been monumental in my personal transformation from a violent white supremacist to a social justice advocate and practitioner. Gary has been instrumental in my life and the change therein. Moreover, I have gone on to help many people, which would not have been possible without Gary. Not only is Gary a healing practitioner for aboriginal peoples but he is also a practitioner for assisting all Canadians heal from racism and violence.
The conduct of the security team that works for OXFORD Property Group Inc. who manage the majority of the downtown Edmonton core has made a huge mistake by seemingly conducting themselves unprofessionally and abusing their powers as property owners, whether legally and or morally and ethically. Whether this conduct was manifested due to racial profiling or whether it was due to affiliation to ‘undesirables’ is merely seen as a minuet discrepancy or syntax. Either way OXFORD are reportedly attacking vulnerable peoples, Edmonton indigenous peoples and vulnerable people living in poverty, in the downtown Edmonton core who often access particular shops in the City Center Mall.
A direct and public apology to Gary Moostoos would be appropriate. A political gesture to show support for Edmonton’s homeless community from OXFORD Properties Group Inc. would also seem appropriate in response to this awful scenario. A gesture of this sort from OXFORD would both compliment and assist Gary Moostoos in his work of helping our society change. We as a society need to collectively move away from discrimination and abuse of powers. OXFORD should recognize the amount of work and the degree of Gary Moostoos’ commitment and work that he embodies.
Gary deserves more respect than this from those employed by OXFORD Property Group.
Here is a list of articles about Gary Moostoos’ work:
For related blogs written by Daniel Gallant please click below:
Exit Resources: Former neo-Nazis
“Prejudice is learned behavior, and so is tolerance…Interactive education about tolerance is the only key I’ve seen that will fit in the lock of this problem. I believe education has to begin with kids as early as elementary age…The entire community…need to band together”
~ TJ Leyden, former neo-Nazi
This article is going to introduce the reviews of three former white supremacists autobiographies: TJ Leyden, Frank Meeink and Arno Michaelis. I will also be reviewing other autobiographies of former white supremacists that come out, so far we are awaiting stories from: Angela King, Tony McAleer and Christian Picciolini.
This resource is intended to provide a public resource that considers the range and frequency of social change and identity transformation that human beings can achieve. Elements of the human experience such as resiliency and compassion are at the forefront of each one of these people’s experiences. I have had interactions with each and everyone of these people and it has been my observation that each one is brilliant and brave in their own way because they speak openly to the public about their life stories. Each one of us that has a public role and speak openly about our pasts risk public criticism, but in spite of the criticisms anyone may have, each one of us are vulnerable and offering that vulnerability to the general public in hopes that we can contribute to a better world; at least that is the trusted perspective of each one of us.
There is no doubt that I have a very analytical perspective and some people can be offended by this fact, but I hope that people do not mistake my directness for malice. I prefer to make statements that are sharp, and sometimes perceived as stabbing, only to encourage and challenge people and institutions. It appears to me that the network of former extremists and terrorists is in motion towards developing as a [sub] culture. I have observed social dynamics developing within the public work we do as individuals forming a collective direction, not all of which are beneficial dynamics. Collectivity can sometimes form into a negative institutional steady state. I hope to contribute my analysis to our collective in order to offer analytical perspectives that may otherwise go unmentioned.
First, I will offer excerpts from my graduate studies thesis, which include some basic interactions I have had with each of these people. I will then offer the process and findings of my research analysis of TJ Leyden, Frank Meeink, Arno Michaelis and myself. Following this article you will then be able to read my book reviews of each of these former white supremacists stories. Preceding this article I did write a comprehensive book review of Elisa Hategan’s book Race Traitor: The True Story of Canadian Intelligence Service’s Greatest Cover-Up. It is my hope that this resource of exit stories is accessed by people in order to encourage others to change and to offer possible ways we as formers can keep engaged with further growth as individuals within the public forum.
Following text are thesis [edited] excerpts from:
A “Former” Perspective:
An Exploration of the Disengagement Process from Violent Right Wing Extremism
Daniel Clayton Gallant
B.A. (First Nations Studies), UNBC, 2011
M.S.W., UNBC, 2014
This text is copyright of Daniel C. Gallant © and cannot be distributed, nor copied, without expressed written permission from author.
**[…] signifies edits
Relationships with FVRWE
*To receive permission or access to whole thesis document please contact Daniel C. Gallant.
My relationships with several FVRWE (Former Violent Right Wing Extremists; aka i.e. white supremacist racist skinheads) are included within this study. I had been introduced to these FVRWE over the last decade. First was my contact with TJ Leyden.
TJ was the first prominent voice to denounce the VRWE network as a FVRWE. TJ has been acknowledged to be a trailblazer of exiting the violent world that we shared. I had first contacted TJ in about 2005 when I was seeking information in order to disprove ‘the movements’ theories of a fictionalized ‘Zionist conspiracy.’ At that point I had already learned how and why race was a failed context of logic/reasoning. I emailed TJ after reading about him online. I read about how he changed his life and that he denounced the white supremacist movement. I emailed his social service initiative called StrHATE Talk…
I wanted to find some sort of literature, or at least an explanation that would deconstruct and prove the RWE doctrine wrong. I wanted hard facts to say that there was no such thing as a ‘Zionist-conspiracy,’ which is allegedly claimed to have an intention to obliterate the ‘white race’. TJ Leyden referred me to a cultic studies expert who then put me in touch with an organization in Edmonton, Alberta, that worked with former cult members. That agency then invited me to a global cultic studies conference that was held in Edmonton, at the University of Alberta. Coincidentally the conference was being held shortly after I began searching for this help. My journey began. I now understand this journey to be the process of surpassing the mere behavioral change of disengagement. The role of post-secondary education in my life in conjunction with First Nations’ culture, language, and ceremony has enabled me to integrate a degree of decolonial praxis into my healing journey (Gallant, 2014, p. 77-78).
I had not been in contact with TJ Leyden since I first contacted him nearly a decade ago, until recently. I was re-introduced to TJ through the social network AVE. After several online discussions with an executive at Google Ideas we had a lengthy phone conversation about my life and what I am researching. He informed me of the reasons why the AVE (Against Violent Extremism) network was started. He stated that the white supremacist movement has always had an online presence since the beginning of the internet… Moreover, my introduction to the Internet was through the white supremacist movement in 1996. Specifically I was introduced to Stormfront, which is a discussion board run by RWE (Right Wing Extremist) Don Black… I broadened my white supremacist involvement through online forums such as Stormfront…, and then later recruited youth in cyber spaces…[as I had indicated on the short documentary film Brotherhood of Hate] (Gallant, 2014, p. 79).
Arno founded an online journal of basic human kindness called Life-after-hate … I discovered Arno was the front man of a white supremacist hate rock band that I used to listen to and pump myself up with before I would get energized with hate and beat people on the streets. Arno’s…music was a passionately hateful charged system that fueled masses of [violent right ring extremist] youth across the world. Arno’s band sang anthems from an organization that I belonged to, World Church of the Creator…Arno’s band had record sales alone that exceeded over 20,000 copies in the 1990s… Now after many years, Arno and I were introduced [to one another] through AVE and Lah…I was excited to add Arno to my list of credible [former-violent-right-wing-extremists] for this study.
Soon after, Lah invited me to be an author for their journal. Now, after building some relations with Lah, and Arno, online and through phone conversations, we plan to meet, and hope to work together to educate people. Arno has a very similar perspective about the role of education, within healing contexts, as I do. He has a grass roots understanding, which I respect a lot. It is my hope that Arno and I can build a bridge between our individual experiences in the future that works towards curriculum development. Arno has turned his autobiography into an educator’s tool with the help of an American educator…
I was also introduced to Frank Meeink through the AVE and Lah network. With limited contact we have discovered some parallel directions and themes between our stories. Through this study I hope to bridge further relations with these three FVRWE and others. I also want to include two other names from Lah and AVE. Angela King…[a] declared feminist researcher, think-er, and do-er, Angela inspires me on a regular basis. I had hoped to include her work in my study. The only way I could fit her into my research without distracting from my topic at this point is by mentioning that her research does exist on the topic of gender, from a feminist perspective within the white supremacist movement…
The other name I want to mention is Tony McAleer. Tony is a Canadian who was a leader of the VRWE network in Canada and has since become a bona fide FVRWE…Tony is the only one of these FVRWE that I had met in the past, during my time in the Canadian white supremacist movement. We had met one time in Vancouver, BC, during the 1990s. Tony is also the only FVRWE I have met in person within AVE to date. I re-acquainted with him on April 4, 2013, in Vancouver, BC. Unfortunately Tony’s autobiography [has not come] out in time for this study. I hope to include both Tony and Angela’s autobiographies in future studies, after they are published (Gallant, 2014, p. 80-81).
Through the AVE…and other similar networks, we see that the emerging culture of [former extremists] includes former cult members, former extremists, and former gang members. This collective social network has already developed cultural nuances. For instance NGOs, online dialogues, discourse, and narratives could be seen as the beginnings of new era of counter-[extremist] dialogues/measures. Further establishing a cohesive culture of [former extremists] could prove to be an effective counter-[extremist/terrorist] measure.
I have identified autobiographies of three separate [former white supremacists in North America]: TJ Leyden, Frank Meeink and Arno Michaelis and I have included some of my published autobiographic narratives as well [for analysis in my study]. These authors are all [former violent white supremacist extremists]…Positioning myself within the AVE, as an author for Lah, research affiliate of Terror, Security And Society (TSAS), graduate studies researcher, educator, activist, and a member of the emerging cultural phenomenon of [former violent right wing extremists]. I hope to contribute to counter-terrorist discourse, particularly to fill in some gaps identified by Dr. John Horgan…who calls for qualitative research on the disengagement process from [violent extremist/terrorist action] (Gallant, 2014, p. 112 – 113).
It is my hope that this Exit Resource website will contribute to a broader understanding of the human capacity for social change and identity transformation. This will be the first article in a series of book reviews and analysis of stories of former violent extremists.
Daniel Gallant, 2014 ©
This is an excerpt from my Masters Thesis and upcoming autobiography.
Since I have completed my Masters I am going to post the last story section of my Thesis. This piece is officially copyrighted and cannot be copied in part, nor in it’s entirety, without my specific and expressed written consent. It is publicly accessible thus I ask that you only share this with people through the actual website.
If you seek further permissions please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Throughout my university career, which I started at age twenty-six, with a grade seven education, my interest in watching and listening to storytellers led me to the Weaving Words Aboriginal Writing Festival. I attended the event two years in a row. Maintaining an anonymous presence at the festival was the most natural engagement for me. Sitting quietly in the sidelines. Listening to others’ stories, connecting and relating to them, while on my own. Previous to attending the University of Northern British Columbia, where this writing festival takes place annually, I had attended the University of Alberta.
While at the U of A, an invitation from my cousin led me to a reading by First Nations writer Richard Van Camp. While listening to Richard I felt compelled to talk with him, but did not do so. Afterwards my cousin Zach and I went to the bookstore and bought a copy of The Lesser Blessed. I enjoyed the book. Years later at the Weaving Words festival at UNBC Richard Van Camp was one of the annual readers. I found him funny and entertaining. He engaged my spirit in a way I had never known before.
During one of my courses at UNBC, in the First Nations Studies program, we had a guest speaker in class. This was on the first day of the Weaving Words Aboriginal Story Telling Festival. Garry Gottfriedson, a renowned Secwepemc poet, came and read some of his poetry to our class. It was intimate and raw. It was about the streets of East Van. I could smell, see, taste and touch the words and phrases he read out about some corners and alleys in the lower east side. Lower is such a good way to describe that area of Vancouver. It is hard for me to know and remember that as a child I was alone on the streets on the lower east side. It was like I was back on the streets of East Van when I listened to Garry read. It took everything in me to not break down with shattered tears in class. Immediately after Garry was done reading, my feet carried me to retreat in the washroom. Tears streamed down my face. Finally someone in the university spoke my language. I was compelled to talk to Garry, but did not do so. Instead my introverted retreat sewed my lips shut. My fear crippled me. I had no idea what the fear was about. It was apparent that it was simply overwhelmingly a response of fear to Garry’s words. Perhaps the fear of returning there to the streets, or the fear that other children, will endure similar experiences.
The following year both Garry and Richard were reading again at the festival. I was excited. After one of the readings the crowd converged to a local campus coffee shop. As we all stood in line Richard was standing there with several of his peers. He looked at me and smiled. I gave him a responsive forced half smile. He looked down towards my crotch. My first thought was “what the fuck are you staring at?”
Then he looked in my eyes while pointing at my pocket, “Hey, that’s a nice knife you got going on there.”
“Thanks,” I replied.
“Can I take a look at’er?”
I pulled the fold up blade out of my pocket. I handed it to him. “Whoa, look guys!”
He showed the knife to his friends. “It’s a camo knife. ohhh, so cool!,” he said with utter excitement. I could not tell if he was fucking with me or if he was being genuinely nice. “Can I open it?,” he asked.
“Ya man knock yerself out.”
Richard slowly pulled the blade of the knife open, with a huge energetic smile. You could feel his enthusiasm illuminate the room. “Whoa! Man! That’s the coolest thing ever! Look guys! The blade is camo even. Awesome knife man! Are you a hunter? My uncle is a hunter even. Whoa! This is so awesome!”
My heart was pounding. I was building up to an uncontrollable desire to punch him in the face. My heart felt like it was trying to jump out of my chest with every beat in order to reach out and smack him in his lips. He folded the knife up and handed it back to me. “That’s a wicked cool knife man. I want one like that someday. It would make a great gift for my uncle.”
I had never felt so patronized as I did in that moment. It felt like he knew about me. That he identified my knife in public to teach me a lesson. “Why the hell was I packing a knife at school for, anyways. What the hell was I afraid of. Was it necessary? Why the fuck was this son-of-a-bitch bugging me.”
Him and all his friends ordered their drinks and left to the large table nearby. I was so relieved when they walked away. They were all laughing and joking at the table. I felt like they were laughing at me. Everybody knew. They all knew Daniel was crazy. He packs a knife at the university, does he think he is tough or something. I got my tea and left. I split like lightening. I got about thirty paces down the hall. I stopped dead in my tracks. A voice spoke inside my head: “You have to stop packing knives Daniel. You need to look at your fear son.”
I took a deep breath in, and released all my pent up energy in a single exhale. My fight was gone. It felt like I was going to cry. I knew my fear had to be relieved through letting go.
Letting go is not an easy task. Usually it comes with a lot of tears and intrusive self-destructive thoughts. I feared in that moment that someone would try to hurt me if I put my knife away. Besides what’s the point in owning a knife unless you carry it with you. The voice of knife spoke again. “Give it away to Richard. He is the one who just called you on your bullshit. You’re in university and your life is different now. Why the hell are you carrying the streets with you here in these hallways. Let it go. Give it away. That’s the Cree way. Face your fears son.”
I marched over to Richard while he sat at the table, they were all laughing and joking around. I slammed the knife down in front of him. It felt like the sound travelled through all the halls in the university. The entire school went quiet and glared at me. They all had seen me. Everyone knew. I felt busted. “This is for you,” I said.
I spun around immediately, and stepped away one foot in front of the other before Richard could respond.
“Hey! Hey man, thanks, but what is this for?”
I side-stepped and spun around while walking backwards. “It’s for you man. It’s my gift to you. It’s yours now” Then I saluted him and walked away.
“Whoa guys look! This knife is so awesome! Look!”
I could hear his bullshit as I walked away. Reluctantly that night I slipped into another one of Richard’s readings. I had to. The guy pissed me off so bad and got under my skin that there was no choice but to face the demons inside me. The festival ended that night.
A year later, I attended the festival again. Both Richard and Garry were there. The opening event was a number of First Nations poets from all over Canada. Garry was reading that day. I needed to attend this one for sure. Garry’s readings brought me to places I did not want to go. But I knew those places needed to be re-visited again. Being haunted by the streets every day of my life is a curse, intrusive memories and grotesque recalls are continuously summoned. But during Garry’s picturesque poetic description of the real world seemed like a healing time to visit those horrible spaces.
As I walked in and sat down, Garry glanced over at me. Immediately he jumped up from his seat in the auditorium and quickly came over to where I was sitting. He plopped down beside me. “Hey, I want to talk to you. I been trying to get to you for two years in a row now. So after the reading make sure you don’t run off like you usually do immediately after. Ok?”
I smiled, “Ya, you bet. I will stay in my seat till you’re not busy afterwards. Just don’t forget about me waiting”
“I won’t. k. I gotta go talk to those people over there before my reading”
I sat there in tears. Finally someone had seen me. It was a relief. It had been several years since someone seen me, and made the action to approach me. The last time that had happened was with Gary Moostoos and Jerry Goodswimmer, in Edmonton (Gallant, 2012a). I felt validated in my existence from the one simple fact, Garry saw me and had articulated that he wanted to talk to me.
We hung out and chatted for several hours. Then he asked for a ride to his hotel room. As we drove down the university boulevard, a hill that is stretched over four kilometers of a sloping downward grade, our conversation got deeper and deeper. Soon our conversation shifted to our histories of childhood abuse. We were in to some pretty dark details. Then Garry talked about the healing properties of writing. I knew what he was talking about.
We talked about how our writing helped us and why we initially started to write in our lives. We talked about how later in life the red road led us to further healing, and helping others. He was shocked to hear that Cree culture influenced my life. Then he asked, “Do you got any of your writing with you?”
“Ya, of course I do. I write everyday in class. Otherwise I could not sit in class if I did not write poetry. I couldn’t process the social work bullshit without my poetry,” Garry smiled. “OK! Grab your bag. Come up to my room and read me a few pieces. Then I will give you some feedback”
I had my backpack on and ready to go. We went up to his hotel room. My heart pumped fear because I had never read my work out to anyone before. We were in his room. He dimmed the lights. Set me up at the table. He laid on the bed, on his back. His hands were clasped together, his fingers on top of his chest. His eyes were closed and he said, “Read the first one.”
I recited my poem: A Letter to Matthew.
“Ok. Good! Read the next one.”
I read my poem about gossip.
“Ok. Good. Now read the first one again”
I recited it one more time. I was feeling anxious to hear his feedback. Intuitively I knew it was going to be good feedback, but my fear and self-talk screamed that he would not like my writing. I had never read my poetry out to anyone before. I had been writing since my first psych ward stay when I was fourteen. Now thirty-six-years-old and reading poems out loud for the first time.
“You have an important voice. Here is what we are going to do. At Christmas time you are going to come stay with me. You will spend the holidays with me for three weeks. We will edit your writing and build you a manuscript”
I was smiling ear to ear. I was found. I was seen. I was heard. My whole life was spent trying to be heard, and now, it was coming. I was going to have a loud voice. We agreed that we would both commit to this offer. “There is one stipulation,” he said. “You have to call me every week until Christmas time. Otherwise I know you will not come”
I smiled. I knew in that moment he saw me. All of me. He understood me.
The writing festival continued the next day. Garry went home. Then on the last day of the festival I attended the last event, alone. Richard Van Camp was going to be reading at the wrap-up for the festival. I was pumped. As soon as the reading was over I rushed off to the washroom. When exiting the restroom Richard said, “Hey! I wanted to talk to you. But you keep vanishing every time I turn around. You’re like a ghost ‘ir sumthin.”
I laughed, “My friends on the rez used to sing a Stompin’ Tom Connors’ song every time I would walk in out of the blue: I am the wind.” Richard and I cracked up. Our bellies laughed. It was like standing there with one of my Cree cousins from the rez when I was a kid. Relaxed and real. I felt at home with Richard.
“Hey I wanted to thank you. Hold on, I brought something for you.”
He ran over to his bag and a group of people surrounded him. “Hold on a few minutes. I just gotta talk to this guy before he disappears on me again.”
Funny enough, it was about three seconds before my feet were gonna high tail it outta there. He came and sat with me. He handed me a folded cloth. It was dark blue. Then he pulled it away from me when I went to grab it.
“This is spiritual tobacco. It was a gift given to me from the six nations. It was grown by my friend. She honored me. Now I am honoring you. You gave me a gift. Now I am giving you a gift. That’s our way.”
I interrupted him. “Richard. Can I tell you something first?”
His eyes looked into my curiously, “Yes, of course. Go ahead”
I continued, “You know last year when you gave you that knife. I was mad at you. Real mad.”
Richard’s pupils dilated huge, “Whoa. What? Why? What did I do?!!”
Then I explained to him what had happened for me. “I have to tell you the story. You made me look at myself by being yourself. You are genuine. So was I. It was an internal clash for me. That day I learned something from you. You helped me. By simply being your beautiful self. I did not understand till awhile later. You gave me a gift and that’s why I gifted you your knife. You helped changed my life.” I was choking back the tears. But my eyes could not hold them back. My right eye poured out tears down the outside of my cheek. I looked in Richard’s eyes, “Thank you” I said.
Richard’s eyes were welled up and he softly said, “Thank you. That is some real powerful stuff.” His eyes then pushed the tears to the edge of his eyelids. The only thing holding back the waterfall of cry was the upward curve of his eye lashes, “That’s beautiful. Mussi-cho”
He handed me the tobacco. Then his shoulders flung back, his backbone instantly straightened, his eyes wide open and then his open hands moved upward in excitement. Then he went on to say, “Now I gotta tell you what I was going to say to you when I brought you these sacred seeds. The knife you gave me. It’s in a sacred place now. I had the knife in my pocket. I carried it everywhere because I knew it was looking for it’s home. Did you know? Knife has a spirit eh? I have even heard stories that there are knife people.” His eyes were smiling.
“This is so cool. What you told me really fits. This is so important. Knife has a spirit. Everything does. And that’s why we are here. That is why you are important to me. Now I got to tell you. Your knife. My knife. She is with medicines now. I was with my friend and he was looking for his knife. He was so upset. No one ever goes into his medicine bag. But somehow his knife went missing. No one ever touches his things. He even lives alone. So no one touches his stuff. Ever! Weird eh?”
Some things just happen for reasons beyond our understanding. People are put on our paths. Richard continued, “So I pulled the knife out of my pocket. My friend said “ahhh cool. But the knife has to be sharp. My medicines are tough.” So I opened the knife. I stroked the knife on my thumb to see if it was sharp. And holy man! It was ever sharp. We nearly became blood brothers. You know! Like in the old indian movies. So my friend said: “perfect!” Richard smiled.
“So that’s where your knife is. With the medicines. So now I understand why that knife is where it is. But I need to know something. Where did you get the knife?,” Richard asked.
I told him I was teaching a young First Nations guy to hunt. “I met him in school. He was in a heavy metal band and they played a lot of concerts in Canada and all over the continent. Their band, Giybaaw, always came into contact with white supremacists because of the type of heavy metal fans that went to the shows. And some of the bands were Nazis. So they asked me for help cuz I know about that stuff, eh? Then the next thing I know we became such good friends. I took him up north to teach him how to hunt. I realized I needed a pocket-knife. So we stopped at an old gas station in the middle of nowhere and I picked that knife. It had a perfect edge and beautiful tip.”
Richard smiled and stood up. He put is hands out to the sides and waved me in for a hug.
“I thank you Daniel. You’ve honored me with your story. Mussi-cho nechi”
I hugged him and quietly said, “hiy-hiy. You honored me today too.”
I continued on with my day. I was so grateful. Life was going where it was supposed to be going. The spirit of the knife told me this. Three and a half months later I went to Garry’s. We hit the work hard. We edited over a hundred poems in nine days, while we developed the manuscript. I also wrote many new poems. It was beautiful. Ten to sixteen hour days for nine days straight. We even did eight hours of work on Christmas day. After we were done we talked about the experience together. De-briefing all of our emotions and spiritual gratitude for having our paths intersect. I told him how much the Weaving Words festival meant to me that year, and why. I told him about the story with Richard and I.
Garry’s eyes filled with tears. He shook his head as his neck shivered,
“You know what?!”
I looked at him confused.
“Your knife is with my medicines.”
We looked at each other in shock. We both knew in that moment, these paths of the red road were healing trails. This was the spirit of the knife at work. This is what medicine means. Knife has a healing spirit, with an edge.
Here is the videos for 16×9 TV show I was interviewed for.
First is a preview interview
Second is the full episode
Last is the behind the scenes interview with producer Krysia Collyer