This blog post is dedicated to Garry Gottfriedson who has taught me how to amplify my voice. Garry is a Secwepemc writer from the interior of BC. Garry spent a lot of time teaching me through experiential learning of how to edit and construct my writing. He led me to exploring my own voice. The gift he has given me, is deeply appreciated.
The story of Garry and I met can be found in this story: Spirit of the Knife.
I have been invited by Garry, and retired indigenous lawyer/writer Michelle Good, to read at Garry’s book launch for his book: Deaf Heaven.
I was recently interviewed about the Soldiers of Odin taking foot in BC. I see this as very problematic, in spite of the groups desire to claim they have no ties, nor intention, similar to that of the group they claim to be a part of. This, of course, is illogical; and in my opinion demonstrates how full of shit these guys are.
I decided to write this first letter to my fellow Canadians, and the latter to Soldiers of Odin as a whole.
Daniel Gallant is a registered Social Worker who studies law, and has been acknowledged as a leader on topics pertaining to right wing extremism in Canada. Daniel spent nearly ten years trapped within the white supremacist movement in western Canada, and has since dedicated his life to undoing violence, racism and hatred. His work has been presented to, acknowledged by and referenced by world leaders, governments, leadings scholars, global organizations, and law enforcement.
Dear Fellow Canadian Citizens,
Don’t believe the hype.
Soldiers of Odin (S.O.O.) are not here to protect you, nor your communities. This group claims, and may even believe, they are working for the greater good. But, this is clearly not true. I would like to tell you a few things about their organization.
First, S.O.O. is the by-product of the European white supremacist network. The group was designed in Northern Europe by hate mongers that aim to ‘cleanse’ neighborhoods from ‘immigrant hordes’. The group’s primary purpose is to engage in war and instill terror into its enemies, as that is a nature of war; for furthering context Soldiers of Odin were formed to target immigrants, Muslims and Islam. However, the Canadian leaders of this group want us to believe they have nothing to do with, nor are they alike or kin to, the hate group that birthed their organization, a little over one year ago.
Basically the Soldiers of Odin will do whatever it takes to hide behind every mask they can. Plainly speaking, if the group has no kinship with its white supremacist roots, then why did they join under the flag, and trademark, of the Soldiers of Odin. There does not appear to be any logical and rationale that could make this a plausible truth.
Soldiers of Odin began in Europe, formed by white supremacists, about a year ago. Now under that same flag, Chapters of the organization have spread throughout Europe and North America; all hailing anti-immigration sentiments and embracing right wing rhetoric. But, the Canadian chapter wants the citizens of Canada to be permissible and complicit in their inherently racist organization. This way they can both hide and fulfill their organization’s purpose. Hiding in plain sight.
WHAT IS IN A ‘NAME’
Soldiers of Odin are making claims that do not hold up to even the most basic logic testing.
For instance, let’s for a minute consider the name of the organization, “Soldiers Of Odin”, in itself demonstrates what the group is, and sets out to do. Odin is the god of war that honors those who die in battle to protect their race and soil. This is the odinist way. Anyone who claims otherwise, either is lying or does not understand the narrative they are supporting, which in itself demonstrates inconsistent messaging of this organization, or perhaps lies. These tactics are only utilized by those who have something to mask and hide.
Additionally, the term “odinism” was the construct of WWII era theorists, who were Nazis. The Nazis developed and branded odinism out of an ancient Nordic Pre-Christian Religion. The ancient pagan ‘religion’ was not called “odinism”, it is Asatru (and other variations of the like).
The Nazis created a new branch of neo-paganism, odinism, that had erupted into a real threat all over the world in the 1980s, which disguises itself as a cultural heritage ideology. Yet, just another way for extremist racists to hide their true ‘color’ (pardon the pun).
In our era of contemporary right wing politics and global issues pertaining to extremism and terrorism, these sorts of groups are emerging everywhere. And without a doubt, they are a threat to those that fall into identifiable categories. By this dynamic alone, is kin to the same way that racism plays out in our communities; it is schismatic in nature.
The main difference between Astatru and odinism, in a very rudimentary explanation, is that odinists worship the Nordic god of war. Odin is set out to protect soil and bloodlines. By this logic alone, Soldiers of Odin are there to protect their own race and land. This alone should be understood as racist in two ways:
- a) Soldiers of Odin was created as an anti-immigration organization to fight against the Muslim community, and
- b) which seeks to protect its (O.O.) own kind, and the S.O.O. membership is primarily ‘white’ people.
There is another discussion to be had about Soldiers of Odin and their impact upon indigenous peoples as well. But that is a more complex area of discussion to have in the future. But let me assure you, this is also an area where this group demonstrates pure ignorance and inconsistent messages. Unfortunately, unbeknownst to many people the S.O.O. will disguise itself, and it’s true purpose, function and structure by convincing members of the public otherwise.
SKINHEADS AND RACISTS
Soldiers Of Odin’s leaders claim they have purged out the racists from their organization. This is, flatly, a lie.
I was a part of the white supremacist movement in Canada for ten years. I have been engaged with online monitoring of white supremacist organizations now for nearly 12 years. I assure you that there is evidence that proves the S.O.O. are soo full of poop, on this point alone. This is actually a ridiculous claim. They are flatly denying the presence of racists in their midst to the Canadian Public, while on the other hand have embraced white supremacists within their ranks; and remember that they were also founded by white supremacists.
White supremacists and racists have been praying to odin before beating and killing people on our streets, for decades. Some of you may even remember David Bowie’s 1987 album Tin Machine warning us about racist odinists in his song entitled: Under the God. This is not a new issue.
Not only do the Soldiers of Odin have white supremacists in their ranks, but the leadership does engage in many forms of rhetoric that synthesizes the nature and conduct of, and is derived from, white supremacist groups.
S.O.O. has engaged in social media attacks against those who oppose or critique their organization; and this is why I have chosen to speak out.
Community leader and long-time anti-racist Alan Dutton has been interviewed about his opinion of Soldiers of Odin Chapter that was recently started in Vancouver. Soldiers of Odin members and leadership has began referring to the opposition as enemies and then referring to their critiques as “antifa”.
This is precisely what fascist, nazi and white supremacists do. In fact, the rhetoric and dynamic of attempting to discredit someone, by labelling them as antifa, is birthed out of the white power movement.
Antifa are people who are anti-fascist. Already, Soldiers of Odin have launched social media attacks against those they label as antifa, which surely they will label me. This is very problematic for a couple of reasons:
First, when did we as a society begin to say that Anti-Fascists are a bad thing?
Second, did Canada not take a formal position against the fascist Nazi Regime in WWII?
How can Soldiers of Odin claim to be upholding Canadian law and values when they are attacking those who stand up against racism and fascism. It seems that Soldiers of Odin are working contrary to our legal system.
The fact that S.O.O. is attacking antifa online, is indicative of the similar conversations found on white supremacist websites. This is a core contradictory element of their organizations discourse. This does demonstrate the ideological lineage of Soldiers of Odin’s members. I do not think, nor expect, most Canadians can easily identify these issues. But, I can, as I spent nearly a decade immersed in that lifestyle; and more than a decade of unlearning the doctrine.
My years within the white supremacist movement in western Canada, to my profound social change, and now my current role as an educator, researcher, advocate, Social Worker and future career as a lawyer, compel me to express to you that this group, in my opinion, are a threat to safety of ALL Canadians. Especially to minority groups and vulnerable persons.
It has been demonstrated to me, through my research on the Soldiers of Odin that there is a grave concern that emerges in the influx of their membership, and the fact that many people who are not attracted to white supremacy, are being duped into this new organization.
I will support any group that keeps our streets safe for ALL Canadians. However, not only are the Soldiers of Odin unsafe because they are inherently racist and war-minded as an organization (as is demonstrated by evidence found in their organizations founder and group name), they have also proven to be comprised of liars, racists, extremists and bullies who belittle immigrants and anti-racists. This alone should raise flags about who and what the Soldiers of Odin are.
Canadians should be concerned with this group that is reminiscent of the Heritage Front.
Daniel Gallant (MSW, RSW)
Juris Doctor Candidate – 2017
Dear Soldiers of Odin,
It has come to my attention that you have now ‘set up shop’ in Canada, by rapidly expanding Chapters of your ‘organization’ across Canada. Let’s not waste time, nor mince words.
Your organization has already demonstrated dishonesty, incongruence and hatred against your fellow citizens. Your politics are divisive and the evidence is found in your online campaign, organizational conduct, onslaught of misinformation and the fact that you have members who are members of various Canadian hate groups (both past and present). Heck, even your organization’s name speaks to the violent nature of your organization’s intent: war for the sake of ‘blood, soil and honor’.
There are several things I would like to hash out with Soldiers OF Odin and air publicly, some of which is in this letter, and more in my letter to all Canadians. We will surely engage more discourse as time moves forward, as I have a wealth of knowledge, insight, education and stamina.
Your ‘respective’ leader (Joel Angott) indicated (in Metro News article) that you all uphold Canadian law, and our collective Constitutional Rights. Obviously your organization does not understand what a Constitutional Right is. There are only a few ways in how S.O.O. could possibly frame the façade that you all uphold the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Constitution. However, we both know this is complete bull-pucky.
If you had any clue what a Constitutional Right was, then you would not be attempting to claim your neighbourhood patrols protect Constitutional Rights in Canada. Let me explain further.
Canadian Constitutional Rights, are guarantees, in law, that Canadians receive to empower us as citizens. Guarantees that protect us of from the conduct and actions of government, police and authorities of certain variety. Moreover, Constitutional Rights are engaged as a legal protection that are sorted out through the legal system, not by walking through neighborhoods creating an environment of fear and intimidation.
I am sorry to inform you that you do not, in fact, nor law, protect Canadians’ Constitutional Rights. You are a group of self-appointed, not democratically elected, thugs who ‘patrol’ streets against our own citizens. These actions, even if righteous, are in no way connected to upholding our Constitutional Rights.
If S.O.O. were in fact upholding our Constitutional Rights you all would be working within legal strategies against the government and authorities, where there were Constitutional failings and pitfalls. You would not be involving yourself in right wing extremism and organized crime circles.
I do want to acknowledge, however, that we do agree on some matters. Our laws do not protect citizens well enough from pedophiles, rapists and other social ailments. But to be frank, I do not believe you are our solution to these matters. In fact, quite the contrary. This is where I find your organization very similar to white supremacist groups. Your group appeals to those people who are rightfully angered about the abuses and grievances they and their loved ones may have suffered. Soldiers of Odin capitalizes upon these vulnerabilities, and exploits citizens by doing so, while fooling un-suspecting people into your ranks. However, this mere tactic to garner public attention and community support is bound to fail because it is not transparent and congruent; rather it is coercive and manipulative.
Fortunately, there are those of us who have a deeper understanding through personal experience, education and formal research of how organizations like yours get started; and then move onto becoming a threat to Canadian public safety.
I hope that you take this input, how it is intended. My intention is to show you that your organization is publicly speaking out of line, on matters it knows not; and that the rhetoric you are attempting to sell is exposed for what it is: abusive.
Additionally, I do hope you become aware that there are those in our communities who care about sustainable public safety. Organizations like S.O.O., albeit believe they are righteous, are actually creating more divisiveness in our communities and are spreading hatred and fear in the very communities you claim to protect. The very fact that organizations of minorities are expressing concern, and your leaderships response is defensiveness and offensive rhetoric, both demonstrate and exemplifies your organizations nature; the intent of the Soldiers of Odin, hence, your organization’s name that pays homage to the god of war.
Let us, in summary, cut to the chase.
Soldiers of Odin membership includes racists, white supremacists, criminals and liars. S.O.O. was created to instil fear and conduct acts of violence in a war, that odin would adore. It is unfortunate that your predecessor, odin himself, would probably be very disappointed in your tactics and dishonesty.
Perhaps the next time you want to sell the Canadian public a stench ridden pile of steaming crap, you may want to consider a re-brand that does not overtly emulate the true nature of your group’s purpose: abuse, war & racism.
Daniel Gallant (MSW, RSW)
Juris Doctor Candidate – 2017
There is an old battle, between poets and law. This battle has not disappeared. Plato represents Law, and legal educators are proving to me that poetry is still perceived as a threat.
(Please play this song and read the lyrics provided, and then replay while you read this blog article; I whole heartedly recommend that people put this song on loop for your own enjoyment. This song is still one of my all time favourites.)
In an ancient time Plato threatened to force out, BANISH, all of the poets out from the city. Here is a quick summary of the battle between LAW v POEtry:
“Plato, an ancient Greek philosopher, was a student of Socrates and teacher of Aristotle. Writing during the mid-4th century, BCE, he founded an academy in Athens, Greece. His philosophical writings are primarily in the form of dialogues (the form became known as the “Socratic dialogue”), where truths are revealed by a series of questions and inferences based on the questions and their responses. In simplified terms, he believed that abstract ideas and truths exist in a place beyond the material objects of the world. The term “platonic” has come to mean pure or lofty. In Books III and X of the Republic, Plato addresses the problem of poets. He deduces that they are imitators of the world, and therefore far from the truth: “the tragic poet is an imitator, and therefore, like all other imitators, he is thrice removed from the king and from the truth.” The other dangers of poets are that they corrupt youth and incite the passions instead of the faculties of reason. The poet, “with his words and phrases,” is able to convince listeners that he knows what he speaks of: “such is the sweet influence which melody and rhythm by nature have.” Poetry, including the narratives of others’ lives, appeals to the emotions; it “feeds and waters the passions instead of drying them up; she lets them rule, although they ought to be controlled, if mankind are ever to increase in happiness and virtue.” In Book X, Plato concludes that poetry must be banished from the hypothetical, ideal society; however, if poetry makes “a defense for herself in lyrical or some other meter,” she may be allowed to return from exile.”
Here was my response written in 2012 when I was a social work student doing research on the use of poetry in scholarship:
POE = Product Of Environment + try = POEtry = survival through writing
This was written before I applied to law school. As it turns out my law school seems to dislike my poetry. There exists an ancient cultural-ideological divide between those who hold legal-power and those who use creative expression.
All of this reminds me of these events:
Reflections of ourselves in those we love.
Physical mirrors remind us that we are present, but the reflections of our strengths and struggles found in the healing of meaningful relationships are much deeper. Teachings found in the stories of people around us, offered by their being; the teachings we offer others from our state of being.
This story was published in my masters thesis and is one of the concluding chapters in my autobiography soon to be released. The autobiography will be complete once I finish edits in relation to my most recent troubling and difficult experiences while studying at TRU Law school.
But until then, I offer this story that represents the best of life. The stories that live inside of me as a result of the healing nature of so many meaningful relationships can be found throughout my blog, but for now my experience at law school is barren so I must always remember the healing that has occurred only made possible through the people in my life. Law school is filled with a different kind of people, a different culture, a professional and ‘upper-class’ culture fraught with an ancient history of abuse, denial and oppression; a culture that needs more change.
When I remember the stories that brought me to where I am today, is where I find my true purpose and strength. For me the law is but a tool, a tool to bring voice to people like myself, friends and family (nehiyaw). I believe we can reshape tools to make them better, but only if we hold others accountable for their actions while also being accountable for our own actions. Thus, I must press on best I can and remember the spirit of my family and friends, and the spirit of knife.
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 poems about prostitutes and one of the serial killer’s in BC.
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 I 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.
“I can’t think of a lower thing that a federal government can do than racially discriminate against … kids, know that they’re doing it, know it is harming them by unnecessarily removing them from their families, have the recommendations in their hands where they could have made it better and they don’t do it”
– Cindy Blackstock, xecutive director of the First Nations and Family Caring Society
Here is a link to a poem I wrote about Cindy and her work after I met her at UNBC: CLICK HERE
I have written many blog articles, academic pieces and many declarative poetic narratives about my time in the white supremacist movement. I have also read and watched the work of others related to their experience with the white power networks around the world. I have not ever been so profoundly moved by an artistic piece as I have, to date, by the play written by David Gow called Cherry Docs.
(Photo by Jenifer Norwell CBC)
The Director of the play in Kamloops, Glen Cairns, featured Nigel Beardwood who played Michael Downy, a neo-nazi skinhead on trial for racially motivated murder. Todd Sullivan played Beardwood’s Jewish lawyer. Glen Cairns, the Director, is a survivor of a violent hate crime in Toronto back in the 1990s. The beating so severe his face had to be reconstructed. We were brought together by suggestion of a mutual friend, to whom I am grateful.
The play was moving. It was delivered with a vulnerable emotional connection, by a production and acting team that is passionate about life and the real social issues we face in society. This play is worth seeing.
Albeit, my boots are not Cherry Docs they are Oxblood Gripfast (used to be gettagrips) Rangers, which were one of the two main choices of boots selected by nazi skinheads since the 1980s. Both pairs are symbolically linked and represent the same thing, while also acknowledging there do exist some branding and functional differences. I will not discuss these distinguishments as I do not want to contribute to a promotion of the reasons why I selected these boots, but I will say that I always had a pair of Docs for one violent purpose and this style of boot for another violent purpose.
I could write a very long article on what I experienced but instead I encourage you to see the play that runs until Jan. 24 2016 in Kamloops. I also encourage you to read this article by CBC and listen to this interview with Glen, Nigel and Myself as we discuss our intersection, Cherry Docs (boots), in the theatre of life.
(Photo by Jenifer Norwell CBC: Right to left: Nigel Beardwood, Daniel Gallant, Glen Cairns)
The only sad part about this experience is that in response to the CBC’s article (as seen here) is riddled by comments by white supremacists. One particular individual, who is a member of a specific skinhead organization and is responsible for cowardice beatings of our community members and was charged with a hate crime, took to the internet to express his rejection of the healing nature of our collective cathartic experiences.
It is a good reminder for me to know that there are still people who are lost and cling on to the grips of power-over others through violence/intimidation, while riddled with denial and false consciousness about our shared humanness (as I once was)…there is still much work to be done…but at the very least even those who are where I once was are now discussing and engaging on the forefront (or at least periphery) with the work of deconstructing hatred in our communities.
I challenge any and all persons who believe in the things I once did to reach out and have civil dialogue in order for us to grow collectively, rather than holding onto to abusive ways that defeat the thing that we all similarly strive for: survival and a better life. I do not condemn those for believing what they do, but I do openly challenge the not-always-so-apparent logical fallacies and conspirators perceptions of those who dedicate themselves to a movement fuelled by hatred, fear and denial.
There is a better way to live.
I hear when most people are kept up at night about stresses and worries it is about upcoming events. This is not so much the case for me, at least not typically. My chronic late nights come from the past; ghosts and demons.
Ghosts stand there lurking about, not doing much and never utter words, but always persisting with their expressions of despair and helplessness. The demons grapple and bite my mind, body and spirit. The tooth sharp and punctures deep, sometimes to the bone, especially when they grip onto my skull in attempt to pop my brain with unbearable stress and pressure.
The dreams, where the ghosts and demons portal, usually start off nice and peaceful-ish, as I presume most dreams do. You know, normal like. But always, and I do mean always, the disruptions come.
Usually it’s the demons. The loud thud of a child’s body banging up against the wall, being tossed down a stairwell and told “you are worthless,” followed by the open handed smacks to the face and ribs.
Then there are the demons I created. The ones that pounded skulls into pavements and brick walls. Gun shots in the quiet nights that disrupted the ambiance of Harry Connick Jr. The shrieks of men when stabbing my fingers into their eyes or the shattering glasses smashed straight away into faces. The loud hollow thunder of a steel toe boot to the head. Those demons come more often than not. Those I have accepted. I can usually get back to sleep after their rotted stank disappears.
The most difficult nights are those when the ghosts haunt me, fortnight. Those are the visits I can’t seem to shake. The expressions on the faces of these ghosts with their slumped shoulders, hung dead with helplessness. The scared drooped voided eyes. The drawled tone from lipless mouths of children, Like I, and the beaten mother who had her spirit raped out of her. The scars from men that linger in our family, which cannot be settled until death himself finally takes me in the night; often, a welcomed foresight when worn out from sleeplessness.
The slumped over moans and long drawn out chronic sleeplessness settles into my most vital organ: skin. The stress also wears out ambitions within hours. Life obligations cantilever over the cesspool I dive into when I leave my warm bed and out the front door into a society that walks a bleak path of unsustainability.
Crass as it is, I desire the awakening humankind needs. A catastrophe of nuclear war to ensure that we all disintegrate as we let mother earth heal well for the next billion years, until she is ready to try again; then back to my home and bed that I reluctantly attempt to retire to. Only to awaken in an hour or two, so I can hang out with ghosts some more.
Twelve years old, blackened eyed and sore bruised ribs. Eyes puff swollen and dry from the tears. It is hard to believe that salty tears can become an abrasion on a child’s eyelids. I was stressed from the destruction of my home life. So stressed I had a skin condition, psoriasis, that attacked my eyelids. When I cried the dry edges of my lids would flake and feel as if hot needles were forced into them. Each stream of tears would scorch my eyelids. Literally. The bled abrasion bumps would swell when dry, then inflame worse with each and every tear to follow.
I would stay up as late as I could, awaiting for the old-man to sleep. Then I would play my music on my headphones. The metal would enter my blood flow from the ears and pump through my body. Eventually the music that activated my adrenaline would wear me out and I would literally pass out as if I had been drinking. This repeated until the day I left home, not long after my first suicide attempt at twelve years. Leaving home, probably the worst ghost of all.
All the beatings my mother and I endured, all of the screamed words and wails, cannot amount to the haunting destruction of the nothingness that I was flung into at age twelve. That ghost has no face. His body small and elevated high from the floor. Head slumped as if no neck, or perhaps snapped from the noose. No wails, no moans, as if sound, expression and voice abandoned the child who walks cold winter highways thumbing it city to city just to stay warm.
I recall, my mother’s face literally peeled dry skin from guilt. It was her turn. Her skin bled and burned with child abuse. My eye blackened from the gifts of an angry and drunken step-dad, charged on attack ordered by my mother. I did not want to leave, as bad as it was. I cried and begged my mom to come with me. To bring our siblings: “we can all just go mom, please” I cried.
I hated life, this was true. But I knew nothing else, except my mother. My only rock. She was all I had, her and my annoying lil’ brother; and the other two babes I would not intimately know. I was the gone’d big brother. Mom was fucked, no doubt. But the day I had to leave…and the years of homelessness and sleeping in abandoned buildings, vehicles and jail cells that followed…those are the worst ghosts ever.
The silence between concrete walls. Ghosts drift and float in hordes. Demons grip onto my skull with their teeth as their claws dig into my shoulders. Those nights that took eons to end. The ringing in my ears caused by the silence on the outside and the chaos on the inside. Those nights come back.
The institutions where children, like myself, are housed and contained, so that we do not burden society with the sight of our own failings. Unwillingness of neighbours and family members to intervene, fraught with excuse and denial. The dismissiveness of police, teachers and those useless fucking social workers who believe they are helping the world as they get paid to pretend they help abused kids. Denial is the echo in cold caverns where ghosts dwell.
The years I spent just wanting to die because the moans of ghosts and bites of demons are just too damned much to take. My friends from up north, most from surrounding Indian reserves, knew exactly how I felt; albeit they faced a few more challenges than I. That is why so many of my friends killed themselves in quiet violence. A few said goodbye before they left as they knew I would understand.
Ghost expressions haunt and demons bite memory that inject infections of our pasts. Heart throbs rapid and limb veins pulsate, while ears ring loud. Ghosts and demons only visible inside.
Each morning people (colleagues, bosses, professors) ask, “how are you?”