Isabel Okanese bravely began a cross-country walk to reach out to the country on the issue of lateral violence. Lateral violence is prevalent among First Nations according to the soft spoken 43-year-old medium, who gave up her home and job to embark on a powerful journey and to send a message to Canada about the pain and conflict among her own people.
“I let the spirits guide me,” she told The Hope Standard about her mental fortitude and the strength she has maintained throughout her extensive travels.
Tensions between non-status and Metis First Nations are heavy and the Victoria native who passed through Hope recently on her Miyo-wicehtowin (living in harmony together journey) said that discrimination is high among her people as well as the outside community.
The creative and intuitive medium dropped out of art school after being ostracized so severely that she couldn’t cope with being the only native person in her class. This, unfortuantely is an all too common situation among First Nations people. Okanese, who is an Oji-Cree from central Alberta began her tour on May 5th at Mile Zero in Victoria, B.C., and will complete more than 6,000 kilometres and eight provinces across Highway 1 at the finalization of the tour in Halifax, Nova Scotia, sometime in October.
“We got yelled at in the streets of Chilliwack, but Hope has been very good so far,” said Okanese of the response she’s received.
Lateral violence stems from colonization and acts as an umbrella for several abuse platforms including verbal, mental, emotional, spiritual and physical violence according to the activist. Okanese has experienced all forms of lateral violence in her life, including the aboriginal community who shunned her family based on the stripping of their Indian status and as a consequence were thrown into the category of non-status people.
“This has been hurtful — I have had teachers tell me I was a dirty Indian and my own people say that I don’t look or act native.”
Backstabbing, gossip and seclusion have been par for the course, which has ignited the Oji-Cree to practice patience, respect, tolerance and teaching in her own life — it also inspired the dream she is realizing mile-by-mile in a pair of bare-foot shoes to impart the message to others that violence can be quelled with understanding.
“We need to do a lot of healing and come back together as one family,” she said.
Okanese smudges every morning before she walks and has a taken a vial of water from Victoria, which she plans to put into the Nova Scotian coastline as a symbol taken from the sweat of her coast to coast journey in a stance toward unification.
“How can we expect others to stop their hatred against us, if we can’t stop fighting amongst ourselves — if we stop the fighting we can begin to bridge those gaps and to heal.”