For many Aboriginal men, violence against women is an intergenerational, spiritual issue that stems from a devastating history of trauma. Often times, the violence is born from the loss of cultural identity; a direct result of colonialism. I know this because I am one of them. I can vividly recall the darkness of my nightmarish behavior, especially towards Aboriginal women.
My misogynistic perceptions and attitudes had a nasty habit of turning into violence that left a trail of turmoil in my life and those of the women around me. Without even realizing it, I had adopted a belief system that was completely separate from my ancestral roots. I had grown up seeing violence against women not only in my own home but throughout my community. The intergenerational violence was so normalized that I really thought degrading, disrespecting and dishonoring women was part of Aboriginal community life.
This cycle of abuse and sheer disrespect was ever-present and continued to build as I got older. Eventually, my own mother became fearful of me. Isn’t that unbelievable? In time, the patterns I had seamlessly adopted as my own landed me in jail.
In my late 30s, after some excruciating growing pains, I finally decided to embark on my healing journey. I had hit rock bottom, and didn't really have much of a choice. It wasn’t until then that I first heard someone say “women are sacred”. I didn’t hear this from a non-Aboriginal, I didn’t hear this from a church, from a pastor, or from the bible. I heard this from an elder at a ceremony. When I heard that “women are sacred” and “women should be treated with respect and honor”, the rivers of destruction I had tried to ignore came flooding in. I became overwhelmed with remorse and shame. The memories of the hurtful words I uttered to my mother became too much to bear. I began to question my upbringing, my adopted belief system, my community’s normalized behaviors and attitudes, and the obvious presence of lateral violence.
I also began to feel incredible anger. Anger at the loss of my cultural identity, the residential schools, the government, colonialism, the churches… and at myself. For first time in my life, I became aware.
My healing journey of renewing my ancestral roots led me on a path of making amends; and I don’t just mean apologies. A simple “I am sorry” wouldn’t do. I had to shift my mentality and courageously confront the wreckage I had once caused in the lives of Aboriginal women.
I began to make direct amends not only to Aboriginal women but to all women and individuals who I may have harmed. I was on a spiritual journey. This path wasn’t an easy one, as it demanded the resurrection of what I had abandoned long ago - my spiritual identity as an Aboriginal man. I realized that I had abandoned my sacred roles and responsibilities as a protector and provider for the women in my life.
Is colonization an undeniable root cause of this? Yes. But I knew that victimizing myself and blaming others would only bog down my process. I needed to take complete ownership of my healing journey and turn it into a spiritual quest.
Here is what I now know: when Aboriginal men return to their sacred roles and responsibilities, they create an opportunity for RENEWAL. They have the freedom to celebrate their ancestry, support their community, cherish their loved ones and heal.
Now this is a life worth living.
You can watch Wayne in season 3 of Working It Out Together in the episode The Long Road Home.
Wayne Rabbitskin is an Indigenous Certified Prevention Specialist and a survivor of many life challenges. As a Nishiiyuu man, Wayne is on a journey for the highest good and to honor his ancestors’ valor. He is an activist for ending violence against women, and in 2013 walked from Chisasibi to Mistissini (1,000 km) to raise critical awareness.