Ahnii, boujour, sago, whachay. My given name is Charles Russell Clarke and I am an Anishnawbe from Saugeen First Nations. My spirit name is Grey Eagle and I am also part of the wolf clan. Growing up as a child, I only knew my name as Charles. It was not until well into my life that I was finally given my Anishnawbe name of Grey Eagle.
For me, life has been quite the journey. I grew up in a small farming community in south eastern Ontario which was a predominantly white community. I come from a multi-cultural family with my mother being Anishnawbe and my father being Irish/Scottish. At the age of six, my parents ended their marriage, leaving me in the custody of my father. When their marriage ended, not only did I lose my mother but I also lost my one and only connection to my Anishnawbe heritage.
From the very beginning of being enrolled into the education system in rural Ontario, I was faced with many problems. From as far back as I can remember, I was called everything but Anishnawbe. For many years, my main goal, while I was attending school, was to fit in but it just never happened. The problem was, how could I explain to people what I was, when in fact, I myself had no idea. From a very young age, I felt as if I had no place within the community.
Growing up in a house with a white father and a stepmother and two stepsisters that were white, left me feeling very alienated a good percentage of the time. When times were rough at school, I felt as if I did not belong. The same feelings were attached at home as well, so that no matter where I turned I was faced with the same feeling of disconnection.
The way I learned how to cope with my issue of no identity was to act out. When I would act out in class people would laugh and cheer me on as if I mattered. This was also the first time I was given an identity – the identity of the class clown and I wore that label with pride right through elementary school and into the beginning of high school.
Acting out was one way I dealt with being alienated from my family and the community but, as I entered into high school, I found a new way to deal with my emotions and that was drugs and alcohol. From the moment I first experienced being intoxicated, I fell in love with the ability to alter my pain. I fought with addiction for most of my life, I threw away my education, jobs, friends and family to live a lifestyle of drugs and partying. This all started at the age of 13.
Eventually, I dropped out of school and moved to Toronto where I started to party even harder. I was living the life of your average addicted, stealing, robbing, petty theft and selling drugs as I got older. At the age of 21, I was out at a weekly party and got into an argument inside a bar and a fight broke out. The next thing I knew, I had been stabbed seven times in the back. I was rushed to St. Michael’s hospital where my heart stopped twice and they had to perform surgery to restart it. I was left with 99 staples from shoulder to shoulder going across my chest to remind me every day how lucky I really am.
A few months after this happened, I entered a six-week treatment center on Six Nations reserve and this was the first time that I had the chance to experience some of our teachings. This was also the first time I entered a sweat lodge and, from that moment on, I was connected with my spirituality. I found that void that I was missing in my life. I later went on and was given my spirit name and clan.
I enrolled myself back into school and I am now studying at George Brown College for my community worker diploma and I am looking to attend Ryerson University in the fall to start my Bachelors of Social Work. None of this would have been possible if it were not for our teachings and our ways as Aboriginal people. Each and everyday, I look up and thank the creator for the journey that I was put on. It has made me into the person that I am today. Chii meegwetch.