I’m proud of my nieces and nephews.
For most of them, education is a priority. Some are not even in high school and are already making plans for post-secondary education. This is completely different from how it was when I was their age. It’s not that I didn’t want an education, but my teenage lifestyle was out of control and most of the time I was not an innocent bystander.
My adolescent years were in the 1970s. This was the first generation of First Nations people being allowed all the fundamental freedoms most Canadians were taking for granted. The year I was born, First Nations people were not able to vote or even leave the Indian reserve without a signed pass from a federal Indian agent.
It was Prime Minister John Diefenbaker who came along and recognized my ancestors as a people. This meant doors that were closed were now being swung open. This was a good thing and a bad thing.
The good part was the opportunities were there for First Nations people to seek a higher education. The freedom to seek freedom was now within grasp. Many took the liberation as a time to further their education and seek a better future for their children.
However, this also opened the doors for a dysfunctional lifestyle that can still be felt today. For a teenage boy growing up on a reserve listening to rock and roll, it meant heading to Edmonton to catch every rock concert I could.
Most of the time, my friends and I would hitchhike to the big city to see our favourite artist. There were no plans as to a place to stay or how long we would be gone. We never thought about it as running away. Besides, at the time, our parents were so caught up in their addictions they didn’t even notice we were gone.
After a while, we were in the Alberta capital so often we stayed for weeks at a time. We started to hang out with other youth our age. Many were runaways from northern Saskatchewan. We weren’t a gang or anything, and we never went around stealing or robbing.
We stuck together for survival. We always had to keep an eye out for the vehicles that drove around and around us like sharks. These were creepy old men looking to exploit a young person. And, sometimes it didn’t matter if it was a young man or a young woman. Also, after a while we got to know the police, outreach workers and people who wanted to really help. For most of us that help was simply someone decent to talk to or a simple bus ticket back home.
That was about 40 years ago, but it still seems like yesterday. I did manage to find my way back to the classroom, and even worked my way towards a post-secondary education. But it’s only a piece a paper to hang on my walls, because I got most of my education through life experiences.
A new school year is starting. It’s always an exciting time. My nieces and nephews have the world to challenge and the opportunities are endless for those who pursue an education.
That’s the only way to break poverty, violence and addictions. It’s not complicated. Good luck is not required for those who believe in education. But don’t forget to get in as many rock concerts as you can.