Challenging others to challenge themselves

Raven Strongquill, who said she has been facing discrimination her whole life, is speaking out with the hope that people can start looking past surface judgements and educating themselves.

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After a month long battle with a local dentist to prescribe her a painkiller, a local resident is sharing her story, one of frustration and discrimination.

The dentist issue is just one in a long line of discriminatory experiences for Raven Strongquill, who said she has been facing discrimination like this her whole life.

She now wants to speak out and urge people to educate themselves and look past surface judgements when speaking about Indigenous issues.

Strongquill recently ‘fired’ her dentist in Morden because on four consecutive occasions he refused to prescribe her naproxen. Naproxen is a non-narcotic, anti-inflammatory painkiller.

“It took me having to go see a walk-in doctor in Winkler where I don’t even live for that doctor to say there was something wrong inside my mouth and my jaw,” Strongquill said. “He prescribed me antibiotics and naproxen and it helped and it went away.”

“I asked [the dentist] four times and he just wouldn’t do it,” she added. “If anyone else had asked I wondered if he would have done it for them. But it’s possibly just because I’m on disability…”

Strongquill is the fifth child of Const. Dennis Strongquill, RCMP constable who was shot and killed in 2001 in the line of duty.

After her father’s death, Strongquill said many of the kids in her neighbourhood began harassing her.

“They called me ‘native trash,’ they’d call me this and that,” she said. “I just grew up with that. I was forced to experience a lot of discrimination from people in my community.”

After her father died, her mother was left to take care of Strongquill and her sister all alone, and Strongquill said despite everything she refused to take handouts from the government, preferring instead to take over both parenting roles.

“She worked three jobs, she was an Avon lady,” Strongquill said. “She did whatever she had to to put food on the table because she didn’t want that following her as someone who raised their children on employment and income assistance benefits.”

Strongquill said she respects her mother’s decision, but after a diagnosis that changed her life is herself a recipient of government funding.

“Throughout my childhood and adolescent teen years I began to notice that I was seeing and hearing things that others could or did not,” she said. “Only later on in life did I realize that I was experiencing the same symptoms as someone living with PTSD, which was my eventual diagnosis.”

Because of her diagnosis, Strongquill can’t work and is considered a disabled member of society.
“Many people have chosen to judge the Anishinaabe people to be recipients of government funding without even looking at the core reasoning behind such a rise in our numbers who apply for these benefits,” she said. “Instead I have faced uneducated racial slurs and opposition from tax paying citizens who I believe do not know enough about our history to really have an opinion, but I don’t blame them for that. It’s not actually their fault, and frankly I am astonished by the lack of education regarding Aboriginal history in schools.”

Strongquill said she often hears people comment that they don’t want to ‘pay taxes for welfare recipients’ and other sentiments.

Strongquill said there is still a lot of misunderstanding when it comes to residential schools and the legacy they leave behind. “Residential schools were boarding schools, they were funded by the government,” she said. “They focused on teaching Aboriginal children the Western ways of life, sometimes without willingness. The schools were church run, children attending were forbidden to speak their own languages, forbidden to practice their own faiths.”

Strongquill said the discrimination has followed her where she moved, from Winnipeg to Altona to Winkler to Morden. Even as an adult, Strongquill said she has had trouble getting doctors and medical experts to treat her.

Strongquill had to argue for 20 minutes with a doctor in Altona to let her take her request for blood documents home. Strongquill said he asked her, “Are you sure you’re going to come back, because I’ve had women like you come here and they didn’t bring their blood work back.”

Strongquill mentioned a time she was getting a ride from a woman with whom she got into a ‘heated’ political debate. “She didn’t seem to know anything about our history, she just had her opinion about how she thought it wasn’t fair that there are so many of us living ‘like this,’” she said. “What people don’t realize is that this relates very heavily to residential schools. Some 150,000 children went through residential schools, and if you don’t think that has an effect on the population over generations…”

The last residential school closed in 1996, only 23 years ago.

Because of her experiences, Strongquill said she has never liked being out in public and having to deal with professionals. “A lot of them have this stigma or something against Anishinaabe women,” she said. “I’ve never had a good experience with them. I rely on these people to give me what I need to live a functional life because of my disability, so I don’t need their discrimination or their judgement.”

“Last I checked it’s not in a doctor or dentist’s job description to judge somebody,” she added. “They’re there to do a job, to help that person.”

Strongquill is a graduate of Red River College, and she said she finds the lack of education about Indigenous issues shocking. “I would like those in the community who have judged or still judge us to know that what we have survived as a people is greater than any tax deduction you will ever endure,” she said. “That’s speaking as someone with personal experience. I am disappointed in the way that I’ve been treated growing up and in the community.”

“For me to have learned about my own history in college is really sad,” she added.

Strongquill said she wanted to highlight that she is not Aboriginal. “That label was given to us by the government a long time ago to replace our real name, which is Anishinaabe, which in my language means ‘original people,’” she said. “I don’t think we should be accepting the labels that the government gave us a long time ago because they think it’s possibly easier to say or pronounce than Anishinaabe. It’s another way they’re trying to strip us of our control or any sense of ownership of anything.”

Strongquill said she lives a peaceful life now, and has worked hard to get to this point in her life. She came to Morden at the beginning of November. “I was a former addict,” she said. “I’m completely healthy now, I’m 100 per cent sober, living a great life. I believe in God. It would nice if I could have the same freedoms as other people who go to the same places.”

“This is the most peace I’ve experienced in quite a while, staying somewhere for three or four months,” she added.

Strongquill said she likes learning about new things, and works hard to make her house a home despite all obstacles. “I can’t get a driver’s license, but I build from what I have and what I have to work with,” she said. “I try to do new things, I’ll pick one thing and I’ll learn about it, like baking and all kinds of stuff.”

Strongquill also makes music, which is something she said is inspired by the Anishinaabe people.

Ultimately, Strongquill is hoping to convince people to stop judging at face value. “They don’t look within, they don’t try to get to know a person,” she said. “You don’t know half of everything that I am, and I get judged by people. I don’t get mad right away when it happens, I try to talk to them, try to teach them about it in a subtle manner. They’re very emotional about that sort of stuff. It has to do with their money and their security and I totally understand that.”

“Care a little more about what is really going on,” she added. “If you don’t know what happened, then you shouldn’t have an opinion about it in the first place. You need to do your digging. Look deeper and realize that this is the reason why there are so many people living on unemployment. Everything starts somewhere.”

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