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By: Joanne Okimawininew Dallaire, Elder (Ke Shay Hayo) and Senior Advisor, Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation
January 21, 2022

Content warning: This post discusses suicidal feelings, depression and mental health.

A teaching regarding gratitude and appreciation from Joanne Dallaire, Elder (Ke Shay Hayo) and Senior Advisor, Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation.

*speaks in Cree 

I just announced that my spirit name is Shadowhawk Woman and I’m from the Wolf Clan and my ancestry here, and also Attawapiskat *speaks in Cree 

I'm here today to offer: Gratitude, I want to talk about the many things that I'm grateful for.

Having spent the last year at Ryerson. I'm grateful for the undying spirit of staff, faculty and students in unprecedented times of trying to find our footing, of knowing what our future brains of having false starts everywhere for coming back to school and Ii has been an incredibly difficult time; isolation people not having others to talk to not being able to go and go to events that help uplift us.

There's tremendous amount of heavy lifting that has been done by each of you, and I want you to be very grateful towards yourself, for having the ability to go through hard times when you didn't think you were going to make it out on the other side.

To push yourself to your limits of survival skills staying sane of; entertaining yourself of dealing with your highly charged emotions, away from family and friends, this is not an easy task for anyone.

And if there is a silver lining in this COVID it is that it is creating some of the most resourceful resilient people ever to walk on this planet and certainly the community of Ryerson is right in the thick of that.

I want to remind each of us of our importance in this world; that every step we take leaves an imprint leaves an impact, and we need each other. It's really important now for those of us who are doing well to reach out to people who might not be doing so well, to make time for friends and family. To put aside answering an email to connect to someone it just kind of popped into your mind, because people don't know how to handle this intense emotional state.

And we're all taught to believe that we should know how to handle these things, how can we know how to handle something we've never experienced before; we are living through unprecedented times and living through, it is the key here.

No matter how difficult you're still here.There are some people who haven't made it, who couldn't for whatever their reasons, were managed to go on and they decided to take their own lives. And that's very sad and very disappointing and leaves a lot of people feeling should I have done more.

In my teachings we look at the gift that came from that person's passing and what did we learn from that. So, for those of you who are going through these kinds of times, ask yourself: why is this situation here to help me?

I want to thank every single staff student faculty who reached out to me over the over this year to support me with all the losses, we had in the Indigenous community with all the strong resilient person I had to be for be on a task force and other things, every time something came up in the news I was greeted by loving and supportive emails.

From my community at Ryerson you have no idea how that up lifted my spirits, how that invoked tears of joy and feelings of not being alone, i'm so grateful to each of you for taking the time out to do that i'm so grateful for each of you for just sharing kind words with me please share kind words with other people remind them of how important they are remind them of how you recognize their gifts and their uniqueness.

But most of all recognize your own gifts and your own uniqueness, most of us are sitting alone with our thoughts and that's a very dangerous place to be because our way of looking at ourselves is not the best; we tend to be very hyper self-critical. I asked that you every day, at the end of the day when you lie down in bed practice gratitude; give thanks for what you have in life.

When I lie down, I give thanks for my bed, I give thanks for my home, for my family, my friends, my two dogs that are sleeping on the bed with me; not giving me much room.

I'm grateful for all of those things, and when I start gratitude, I fall asleep in peace. Because even in crazy crazy times there are things for us to be grateful for. And that helps balance all the negativity; we have a responsibility to bring about a balance of that and sometimes that's really challenging and particularly now.

You may want to be with friends and family but can't be, maybe what you need is just to be in the company of people so walk down the street get out and get connected to the energy of others; go out sit in nature.

Hug a tree so is that sounds there's a heartbeat in a tree, sit on a rock, get yourself grounded, be grateful for every breath that you're taking.

Because it's an opportunity for you to plan towards a better future, plan towards how am I going to manage, how am I going to keep going, what do I need to do to support myself.

Being grateful for yourself is the biggest gift, you can give. I'm grateful for myself every day, I'm grateful that I get out of bed, I'm grateful that I'm still able to walk.

And I'm extremely grateful that I get paid to be me. If you're sitting there wondering what you're going to do with your life. Ask yourself what is something I really love to do that, I would do for for my life, even if I didn't get paid for, and then find a way to get paid for it.

Please remember your your greatest resource, when push comes to shove you're there for you put pen to paper, put your thoughts down on paper, remind yourself every day what you're grateful for.

Thank you for this day, thank you for this food, I'm grateful for the phone call, I just am grateful that that meeting that cancelled.

Find gratitude in your life there's enough negativity surrounding us and sometimes we feel like we're in the cesspool of negativity our lifelines our gratitude and positivity: be grateful.

Even when it seems impossible be grateful we don't have to look too far around to see someone who circumstances, much worse than our own. It's not intention to make you feel great i'm guilty, but to be grateful for what you do have, and how you are here.

You're the greatest resource you'll ever have, you're so important to the rest of the world, and your positionality in it, we would notice and we do notice when someone leaves us.

Please find ways in this time of festivities, the holiday season often means a time of coming together with family and friends.That may not be possible in the way that you hoped it would be possible, but there's still ways to make it happen, let your creative juices flow and you will find a way to spend time with family and friends, even in the restrictions of this time.

But most of all, make sure, out of this season, that you bring in your favorite foods into your home. Give yourself a gift celebrate you and be thankful that you are here, as you have friends and family, even if you can't be with them, but they're there you can talk to them.

I am so grateful for each and every one of you I'm so grateful that you take the opportunity to listen to the words that I share with you.

These are teachings, these are things that come from my experience, I am certainly not trying to tell anyone how to be, I'm just trying to pass on coping skills that worked for me and that have worked for me in the past, and one of the most powerful things that works for me is a mantra.

And that's saying something over and over again in your mind until you feel it falling into your body.

And for a long time I mentor was, it is my birthright to be happy, it is my birthright to be happy, and it is your birthright to be happy.

And if you are happy during these times don't feel guilty about that, don't diminish that because you know other people aren't.

This is your moment if you're happy enjoy the heck out of it, just like all other emotions it doesn't stay around for a while.

But over this holiday season over this respite time, please focus on what you need: be kind to yourself, be loving to yourself and be very grateful that you're here, making a difference in this world, whether you believe it or not.

I thank you from the bottom of my heart, and I am so grateful and so full of gratitude for each and every one of you.

And wishing you the very best of the holiday season, and I look forward to our future conversation.

Take care, and I say chi miigwetch, chi miigwetch, chi miigwetch, chi miigwetch,  all my relations Hiy Hiy. (Traditional Cree salutation)

Thank you.