Crocus wisdom for hard times
COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
What wisdom can a crocus possibly offer a survivor of the Indian Residential School system? Just ask Stoney Nakoda First Nation Elder Tina Poucette Fox.
In last week’s edition of the Cochrane Eagle, journalist Tyler Klinkhammer, in his article “Ceremony in Morley honours Residential School survivors,” offers a vivid look at what the 80-year-old advocate for IRS students herself endured as one of those survivors.
Tina attended the residential school at Morley for 11 years. Her mother had made her a new dress and moccasins for her first day. No sooner had her parents registered her at the school and left, however, than one of the staff grabbed her, ripped off her new clothes and forced her into a shower. She never did see those clothes again. “I still think about those little moccasins,” Tina says. “That was the first day of Residential School.”
Then there was the time a dentist came to the school and extracted six of her teeth “without anesthetic,” she says. “When I started crying, he slapped me in my face and said, ‘shut up, you stupid little Indian.’”
Over the years there have been many accounts of sexual abuse, disappearing students – unmarked graves? – and identity-shaming that, today, underlie “the social problems we see in our communities: the family violence, the drug addictions, alcohol addiction,” because of what happened to our young people in the Residential Schools, Tina laments.
“We need to heal somehow, so that we can move forward without bitterness, so that we can learn to forgive what happened to us, because personally, I know that forgiveness frees you from that bondage.”
In the half-century that I have known Tina, her life has been an example of rising above bitterness and bringing healing to many, so relevant during these days of Truth and Reconciliation.
Indeed, this was, I believe, at the heart of why the Calgary area’s YWCA honoured Tina in 1998 with its prestigious Women of Distinction Lifetime Achievement Award. In her acceptance speech, she spoke of what it was like being the first woman elected to the otherwise all-male Band Council who set about attacking her over her demands for greater accountability in council affairs. Her response was inspired by a crocus growing near her home.
A spring knoll was resplendent with crocuses, she told her audience, but one was more beautiful than all the rest. Unlike the others, this magnificent crocus was growing right through the middle of a cow pie.
And here is where she saw the wisdom of the crocus responding to the traumatic experiences of both the Residential School and the Band Council. Like that crocus, “when they were dumping on me, they were just making me all the more beautiful!”
That’s exactly what Elder Tina Poucette Fox is: beautiful – beautiful in giving expression to the virtues of perseverance, endurance, indomitability, determination and rising above bitterness – all in the spirit of forgiveness.
Indeed, she has long been an example to me personally of the beauty of just what may be the most important value in the Stoney Nakoda way, a quality nourished in the cow pies of life and blossoming in the fields of day-to-day living: wa’ahogipabi, “respect.”
Thank you, Tina, for being the wisdom of the crocus to me.
© 2021 Warren Harbeck