A woman from Tsideldel (Alexis Creek) First Nation in B.C.’s Interior is walking 177 kilometres east to Williams Lake this week to raise awareness about violence in First Nations communities.
Marilyn Charleyboy told the Tribune she wants to make a difference for her children, grandchildren and her community.
It’s a very long story, she said.
“In 1996, one of my relatives was stabbed in our community and he died in my front yard. It was traumatic for me. He was 27. I was 27. I was very very affected by it.”
The stabbing occurred on Dec. 17 and Charleyboy said when the RCMP investigated to talk to people, “nobody would say anything, everybody just went hush hush about it.”
Charleyboy is a family support worker in her community, and was a youth worker at the time of the stabbing death of Rhoddie Louise Marianne.
“I went into the school to see in case there was any debriefing that needed to be done because it was a huge trauma in our community,” she recalled. “The kids’ reaction was what really brought awareness to me, because they said things like ‘oh ya, somebody died, somebody got stabbed, whatever’ as if it was an everyday thing.”
From that incident on, she began to be more aware of how her community reacted to tragedies, children especially,
She was also in a domestic abusive relationship herself and almost killed, she said, and as she began to come to terms with it she realized how so much “centres around violence.”
“I began doing my own research, and with the jobs I’ve had in different places around the area, really focused my attention on violence and how it affects people.”
Having the opportunity to hear Dr. Gabor Maté and Dr. Martin Brokenleg speak at various conferences, also enforced the realization that domestic violence and all violence affects young people.
“It’s like a brain injury in the developmental years of a young child,” she said. “If they spend a long period of time being very afraid because violence is happening in the home, they are in that constant flight, fright or freeze function in that part of the brain. Then we wonder why they can’t learn in school.”
In 1998, she was invited to co-facilitate a workshop in Saskatchewan, and attended another workshop on intergenerational trauma.
“That really changed the course of my life, learning that not only do we carry our own traumas, but the traumas from our history as well. The fear our grandparents carried when their children were removed to go to residential school.”
Some children are focused only on being safe, she added.
“Being a family support worker I see that family violence and domestic violence and all those are the very reason why our children are being removed from our homes. I don’t think that people are aware of how huge that impact is on a person.”
Describing her own family background as “OK” with a “strong family,” she said there was still violence that she witnessed as a small child.
Five years ago she was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and has had to learn to function “normally.”
“All of that has brought me to this place in life where I finally have a sense of belonging and I know my own home is safe. I don’t have that fear anymore and it’s taken me this long to get to that place. I’m 48.”
Some nights she said she wakes up, knows there are parties in the community, and she wonders if the kids are safe and in warm, comfortable beds or are they hiding in fear?
“I want to see our communities get to a place without having to heal from their childhoods. They should just be free to be children. I have grandchildren and I am proud to say they haven’t had to witness any violence. That cycle was broken with me.”
Many things happened historically to First Nations that impacted them and their culture, Charleyboy said, noting her people should be beyond survival mode and thriving by now, but they are not.
“It’s because not enough people are standing up and speaking about these things,” she added.
On her walk, Charleyboy will be joined by people from communities along Highway 20.
“It started out as my personal mission to raise awareness because it seemed like everything I was meant to do led me to do it.”
She plans to walk about 30 kilometres a day and will go back home each night to sleep at her home in Tsideldel and estimates it will take her five days to do the walk and hopes to arrive in Williams Lake on Friday, Sept. 14.