My name is Jordan Apetagon. I am a survivor of the inter-generational trauma of residential schools; I am a child of survivors. At one point, I was a product of this broken system, a damaged environment that was haunted by the memory of the residential schools. Both of my parents were in residential schools – my father was a part of the 60’s scoop. My story actually begins long before I was even born; because every aspect of my life was impacted by the schools, from my home, my family, my upbringing to the community I was immersed in. I was a living, breathing, walking example of the damage the residential school caused.
As a child, my primary focus was on taking care of my mother. My mother was a raging alcoholic. I spent countless evenings drowning in a haze of cigarette and marijuana smoke, only to awaken to the sounds of fighting, arguments and drunken hysterics in the early morning. I would wake up before school, send people who were passed out around our house home, I would clean up the broken beer bottles and cook breakfast for my mother before I left for my day – at the age of 8.
I didn’t know what this ‘beer’ was at the time but I could see how it made my parents change. They became angry, they became sad, it’s like it brought out all the pain they felt on the inside and for a moment became completely and utterly defenseless against it. I didn’t realize it, but what I was witnessing was the pain they carried with them from the residential schools.
Chaos was normal to me.
My dad disappeared for 9 months when I was 7 years old after my parents separated. He showed up at my 8th birthday party, drunker than I have ever seen him before, and I was filled with uncontrollable rage. I began to hit him, punch him, I threw him down the stairs, and he was defenseless against my onslaught of fury. I lived my life being controlled by this demon of alcohol before I was even old enough to know what it is.
The hurt they endured in the residential schools, they passed on to me, through the vicious cycle of inter-generational trauma.
There was one night in particular that shaped me into who I would become for my entire youth and most of my adult life. Before my mother passed away I made a mistake that I have only recently been able to open up to – the truth that has weighed the heaviest on my shoulders, that pierced through my heart, and what I felt, tainted me from ever being able to be a pure man. After a long night of drinking, we got into an argument when I was trying to send people home and told her to stop drinking. My mother looked me dead in my eyes, and she told me she didn’t love me.
I felt my heart sink into my stomach; those words knocked the breath, the love and the hope right out of me.
I picked up the phone to call CFS and get them to take me away, and she tried to pull the phone away from me.
I raised my hand up, and I hit her. The woman who gave me life. I called CFS and asked them to take me away, and they did. I was never able to forgive myself until this year, and after that situation I felt awful – I hated myself, and I promised I would do anything I could to make up for that.
After being apprehended, CFS labelled me a ‘runner’. Every home I was in, I would run from. I would run to get to my mother because I felt I had to take care of her – I knew she wasn’t capable mentally, emotionally, or physically to take care of herself because of her addiction, and the guilt I felt from hitting her made me feel like I had to make it up, somehow. No matter where I was, I would run to her. I’d be taken back to my foster family, and I would run again.
My mother died in a house fire when I was in the care of child and family services. I remember that day, it has been burned into my memory, a scar that would forever be a part of me. Even though I was only a youth, I carried the guilt on my shoulder for my entire life. I always felt like I was responsible in some way – like I should have been there, if I was there, it wouldn’t have happened. I would have made sure she was safe. My father died a year later from cancer. The grief I felt made my heart ache – I felt responsible for my mother’s death and hated myself for hitting her. Hated isn’t even a strong enough word to describe what I felt – I loathed my existence and that I was stuck here alive, carrying this weight, this heaviness with every step I took. I beat myself up emotionally, and I behaved in ways that were self-destructive. From suicide attempts to addiction, to violence and self-harm, I felt unworthy of love, respect, and kindness – and that hatred I felt for myself was woven into the very fabric of my life. Everything I did, every choice I made, was created from a place of self-hatred.
And so continued the cycle of my life. I couldn’t face the pain so I turned to alcohol – it numbed the constant throbbing in my chest, it made the load on my shoulders feel 1000x lighter. So I drank, and drank, and drank. I didn’t feel worthy of love, so I ran from everybody who tried to love me. One night, while under the influence of alcohol, I robbed a store at gun-point and I was arrested 2 hours later and charged with armed robbery. I was sentenced to 4 years in prison.
Going to prison was a serious wake up call for me. I had to stay away from alcohol, I had no choice. Being sober forced me to look at myself, to look at the choices I made, the life I lived and to feel the pain I felt. I immersed myself in ceremony, and started using my voice to sing on the drum. When I felt that anger and that grief try to pull me back into despair, self-hatred and self-destruction, I banged my drum harder, sang louder and prayed longer. I started writing raps and hiphop music, and gave my stories life, in a way that is healing and not harming. When I started crying, I swear it felt like I would never, ever stop. I numbed myself for so long that I couldn’t remember how much I carried with me for my whole life. I was 19 years old, sitting behind bars, and I knew that this was not the life I was meant to live. That pain that was birthed in the residential schools was horrific, disgusting – and it was my responsibility to ensure that pain was not carried down another generation. I want to live a good life. I want to live a happy life. I began my journey of forgiveness and self-love and it was the hardest choice I ever had to make. Since I made the choice to seek healing and forgiveness, not only for what others have done to me but for what I have done in my life, I haven’t stopped crying, and sometimes there are still days I am engulfed in sadness, but when I am, I burn my sage, attend ceremony and pray to Creator and my ancestors for guidance. I write music – raps, melodies, songs, poetry, and use my voice as medicine. Succumbing to the pain is easy – numbing the self is easy; sobriety is a battle that I will have to fight for the rest of my life. Through ceremony and making music, I have found beautiful people, who have become my family, and have shown me what love truly means. What true brotherhood is, what family is. Now when I cry I don’t have somebody shoving a bottle in my face, I have people beside me telling me I am worthy, I am loved, I am appreciated. I have people beside me praying for me and with me, and I honestly couldn’t ask for more. I have been truly blessed in my life, despite what has happened in my short 25 years of existence. I have found the warrior within – the Warrior that endured sexual abuse, addictions, incarceration, inter-generational residential school trauma, suicide – the Warrior who uses his voice to speak to children and youth across the Nation, the Warrior who travels and performs in communities all over Canada to raise awareness and tell his story; the Warrior who will ALWAYS fight for those who can’t.
Residential school is the birthplace of all the pain in my life, but it no longer dictates my life. Though I sometimes find myself imagining what my life could have been like if my parents weren’t exposed to such revolting acts of abuse, neglect and violence, I know that all of my experiences have shaped me into the man I am today. My children will not know the pain of inter-generational trauma like I did. Every day that I wake up sober, a free man, surrounded by people who truly love me and believe in me – I am blessed and I vow to myself that I will never walk that path of destruction again, and I tell myself: I am worthy of love. I am worthy of forgiveness. I am worthy of a good life.