Indigenous author, educator Suzanne Methot explores healing intergenerational trauma through Indigenous spirituality
As a writer, Suzanne Methot’s most transformative moment was when she realized her writing wasn’t any different than her work as an educator – she could leverage both aspects of herself to educate and help people and in doing so, change the world.
“Everything got a lot easier after that,” she says.
On Thursday, October 29, Methot presents her lecture “Spiritual Reclamation/Ceremony: Healing from Intergenerational Trauma,” as part of the Spirituality as Land, Story and Relation series presented by the Department of Theological Studies. The event is free and presented via Zoom.
Drawing on trauma theory, epistemology, and education for social justice, Methot's lecture describes how Indigenous spirituality can carry Indigenous individuals from woundedness to interrelatedness – and how that process becomes a healing story.
“The Cartesian emphasis on thinking leads us to an individual, alone with their thoughts,” she says. “Living a spiritual life requires us to look outward, to the world and our place within it. Canada needs a healing story.”
A Nêhiyaw (Cree) writer, editor, educator and community worker born in Vancouver, British Columbia, and raised in Peace River, Alberta, Methot’s most recent book is titled Legacy: Trauma, Story, and Indigenous Healing (ECW Press, 2019).
Read below for an interview with Suzanne Methot:
What is intergenerational trauma?
Suzanne Methot: Intergenerational trauma is a cycle of patterns, behaviours, and impacts passed down in families and communities as a result of historical events that continue to affect those living in the present day. There are many reasons behind this cycle. For Indigenous people, the reasons behind the cycle relate to dispossession from land/community/ceremony, colonial control over identity and the corresponding lack of individual/collective agency in daily life, the mental/spiritual/physiological impacts of experiencing trauma, and how childhood trauma affects human development.
What role has storytelling played in your life?
SM: Storytelling has been key to recreating my sense of identity, which has helped me create a sense of connection to my ancestors and community. This has, in turn, helped me overcome the disconnection that survivors of trauma commonly experience. Storytelling has also been an important part of creating cross-cultural understanding and systemic change. This is the work I do on an everyday basis. It’s exhausting – but it's also the reason why I get up every morning happy to engage in the work.
In what ways can storytelling be a powerful tool in healing from intergenerational trauma in Indigenous communities?
SM: Storytelling can be a powerful tool because it allows survivors of trauma to recreate a narrative of identity and self, apart from the control figure/abuser/colonial narrative that tells them another story about who they are. It helps survivors mourn what happened, package that chapter up, and put it on the shelf, so that we discover, or rediscover, joy. It also helps combat the disconnection that results from trauma by helping us create a shared narrative that connects us to other people, which helps us create a support system and believe in the goodness of the universe again. Storytelling can also help survivors work through issues of shame by allowing them to reposition themselves in a new story, outside of the negative things they have been told about themselves (from an abuser, colonial society, racist systems, or as part of a dysfunctional family). When Indigenous communities tell stories within the community, it helps people hear other people’s perspectives and get outside themselves, so that they can begin telling stories about the future – what they want to do and be as people and as a collective. It returns communities to a state of agency, where they are thinking about, and have hope for, the future.
When did you realize you wanted to be a writer?
SM: As a child, I examined magazines and books and was fascinated by how those words got in there - and I was always writing. (When I wasn’t playing teacher, that is.) In university, I was arts editor at the weekly student newspaper and also began writing short fiction and really bad poems for university publications. So I don’t think there was a moment when I realized I wanted to be a writer - this is just who I am and what I have always been. Even when I tried to leave it behind - because I did “quit” writing around 2004 in order to go back to school and get my post-graduate degree in education - the writing kept coming back to me and just would not leave me alone. First it was curriculum writing, then it was a textbook, then it was the non-fiction book that became Legacy. It came back to me, and this showed me that I would have to figure out how to balance the writing with all the other things I want to do (and have to do to make a living).
What advice would you give aspiring Indigenous writers?
SM: Whenever an aspiring Indigenous writer contacts me (which is pretty regularly), I always tell them to keep writing! To be an engaging writer, you have to find your voice, which is hard to do when Indigenous people have been denied voice for so long. Then you have to work through your own issues so you can find a voice that is equal parts anger and compassion, for both yourself and others. You have to be dedicated to your craft and you have to work at it – but you also have to decide whether you’re writing for you, your family, your community, the wider world, or all of the above. Writing can be a tool for many things at many levels – not every writer has to be a well-known public figure. You also have to find a supportive community –people who will challenge you on your ideas and recognize your brilliance at the same time. It also helps if you sing to the full moon and greet the sun every morning with a wish for the day. You need to balance your work with a connection to the world.
What do you hope audiences will take away from your presentation on October 29?
SM: I hope audiences will take away, first, that healing from intergenerational trauma is not just work for Indigenous people, but is also work for non-Indigenous people and Canadian society as a whole. We have all been negatively affected by the thinking behind colonialism, and the practices of colonialism, so we need to do things differently – but this time, we have to walk forward together to create our shared world. Second, I want my talk to dismantle the myths, stereotypes, and assumptions that so many people in Canada still have about Indigenous people. I want people to understand that the historical events of colonization and the continuing practices of colonialism have negatively affected Indigenous communities, and that this is why we see high rates of depression, addictions, lateral violence, and learned helplessness. These things are a response to trauma, and are part of the everyday impacts of trauma – they are not inherent to Indigenous cultures, and Indigenous peoples should not be blamed for them or assumed to be somehow deficient. Third, I want people to see how strong, creative, and resilient Indigenous people are. Not only have we survived colonization and colonialism, we have, in so many cases, flourished – despite all the barriers that have been put in place to stop us from achieving and surviving. If Canada could see Indigenous peoples as fellow citizens and allies, and if they could see Indigenous ways of knowing as wise pathways for our shared endeavours, then the country would be a much better place for everyone.
Find out more about the Spirituality as Land, Story and Relation series.