Woodrow Morrison, Jr.

As we strive to end violence against all people, we especially focus on those most vulnerable; women, children, and elders within our Native communities. The story and lessons addressing anger help us to understand the need for balancing emotions. They also help us to know that all of our emotions are valuable, and that we must learn to listen to the messages delivered by each one.

In the following lessons, writer Numpa Foxes Singing presents teachings designed to help us re-establish respect and harmony throughout all generations of Native families and communities. These teachings include the integration of positive identity development with building healthy relationships, encouraging appropriate conduct and skills development, and the restoring of traditional cultural values back into our family relationships.

Transcript: Woodrow Morrison on Recovery

Residential schools in his dad’s generation

My father’s now 96 years old, and the generation just before him were sent to Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania. They sent them were sent all the way from Alaska to Pennsylvania and others were sent to the Haskell Institute in Lawrence, Kansas.

When they were there, they had to wear a little patch, like Hitler did to the Jews. But they wore a little patch just with a thin thread holding it on that said “Speak English.” And if I caught you talking Haida, I’d take that name tag, and take that tag and it had your name sewn on the back. At the end of the day we’d turn them in and whoever turned in the most would get a prize. So that was one of the things they did to stop you from speaking your language.

And so I knew all these stories. I knew what they were doing. And just because they were nice people didn’t mean I was going to trust them because I knew.

This was the 1800’s, about how to beat the Indian out of the kid.

What they did to us is they had to take us away from our grandparents, because our grandparents were the ones who raised us. Our parents didn’t know anything about raising kids, so if you could break that link between us and our grandparents, you’re taking out a generation.

And so that’s how they could get us away from the land too. When you’re away from home… they indoctrinate you, well people call it brainwashing, but brainwashing implies removing impure thoughts, so maybe that’s what they were doing. But when we got home, after spending a year of being told that everything we did at home as bad, wrong, dirty, evil, sick, whatever…

Well, when you grow up in a tribal society the non-verbal communication is paramount. So we would get home and they’d see this rejection, and they would reject us. So once you get this dialectic, this tension between two worlds, once it starts, you go back to school, you come back, the gap gets wider and wider until finally you’re in a state of normlessness.

You can’t fit in any other place, but now you’re an individual. They’ve taken away that cohesiveness that’s permitted us to survive intact for literally a hundred thousand years. But now we have individual liberties. And now I can do whatever I want, because I am free to do what I want, and the constitution guarantees me my liberal freedoms.

Individuality leads to loneliness, leads to addictions

And so, now, I can go get drunk. And I start thinking about that because people say alcoholism is really the result of either genetic factors, environmental factors, or physiological. Now if that was true, we’d all be alcoholics or drug addicts. But I think it’s really a combination of things.

One, they take away that sense of belonging, of where, in Haida it’s called [???] “my mind is strong for you because you stand by me.” When you take that away, now I’m alone. I’m born alone. I die alone. But in Haida you’re not born alone and you don’t die alone. There’s always a spirit with you; but now that I’m alone, there’s an emptiness right here.

Not wanting to be sent to school

So when it came time for me to go, I didn’t want to go. The old men started teaching me when I was pretty small and they warned me about those things; but they also decided I was the one that was going to be a lawyer. So that meant I had to go to school, regardless of how much, well regardless of how I felt about it.

Devastated when he found out he was being sent to school

So I decided, if I do everything I’m told, maybe they won’t send me away. My dad bought me a complete set of Encyclopedia Britannica in the fall of 1954 when I started eighth grade. Between the time I got that and when I graduated from eighth grade, I had read all 24 volumes of that.

I started going to Sunday school and church, they didn’t have to tell me, and then I actually got up and accepted Jesus Christ as my personal savior and I had a bible with a white leather covering on it.

And I just knew, “Okay, they’re not going to send me away, I’m behaving, doing everything.”

Come May, we got out of school in May because of fishing season, we came in from the fishing grounds in August, and I went in the house towards the end of August and it was like somebody had stabbed me in the heart because I saw my mother was packing this foot locker with clothes, and I just knew it was for me.

I asked, “What are you doing, mom?”

She said, “Oh, this is for when you go away to school.”

I didn’t say anything. I walked out of the house and I just ran. There’s a muskeg, so I just ran right up to the small river there. There’s a place called [???], [???] in Haida is a round hole in the water, it’s a deep place where the water’s still. So I sat there and I cried, and I cried.

Then I thought, “I got to do it, so I guess I’m going to do it.” So then I went home, and I never said anything about it.

Not wanting to be sent to school

I was sent to a Presbyterian school in Sitka, Alaska. Sheldon Jackson. For the most part we were treated pretty well, but I hated it, I didn’t want to be there. I wanted to be a fisherman, I wanted to go on the trap line with my dad, hunting.

Conflicts in school with religious teachings

The only way that I could survive that thing was that I had to fight all the time. I fought anybody, all the time. I was always in trouble.

Rejecting school’s views on Jesus Christ

So when I got to Sheldon Jackson School, and they told me about this thing where you had to accept Jesus Christ as your personal savior, I said, “That’s not what it says in that book. I read it.”

I said “What it said is Jesus said ‘Okay, now, if you pay attention to what I’m telling you, and you live according to this way, you’re going to be okay.’ They didn’t say you have to get down and pray to me and my mom. It didn’t say anything like that. Of course I got kicked out. (laughing)

Changing schools because of getting in trouble

And then I was in trouble so much that at the end of my junior year, I was told I wasn’t welcome to come back; sort of hinted that if I did try to come back, they’d have me arrested for trespassing.

But anyway, so, my mother applied for me to go to Mount ???, the government boarding school on the island across from Sitka. And they didn’t want me, because recommendation from the Christians was so bad, but my mother got some political influence through the Alaska Native Brotherhood and got me in. Well, things didn’t change much there. I had already been labeled, so, I couldn’t change.

How he started drinking, filling the void created by schooling

New Year’s Eve, 1958, I spent locked in a linen room (laughing) because I punched the head advisor, a man named [????]

Conflicts in school with religious teachings

There weren’t always fist fights, but I got kicked out of classes. Once because I got in an argument with a teacher—the teacher said that, well since it was a Presbyterian school, it was Christian teachings, and she said that if you didn’t know Jesus Christ you were going to Hell.

I said, “Well what about my great grandparents? They never heard about Jesus.”

And she said, “They all probably went to Hell.”

And I just went into a rage. I started throwing desks and chairs around and I thought—is that what love is all about? And then I got kicked out of class. Wasn’t too much longer, I got kicked out for something else.

Put on tranquilizers by school

I was put on tranquilizers… and I didn’t know what those pills were.  I’m walking around in a fog, and everything’s just weird. One day I thought maybe it’s those pills so I stop taking them and I start sweating and shaking and I got sick.

So I went over [to the hospital] and I talked to the nurse. And she asked me what kind of pills I was taking. And I showed her and she immediately was angry. She really tore into somebody about that.

Institutionalized all his life

With me, when I got out of school, I went right into the military, and I didn’t get out until I was 25 years old. Well I started kindergarten when I was 4. So for 21 years, I was institutionalized, and of course I was angry. I mean there was a rage going on in there. I would lash out and I nearly killed people. I didn’t kill them, but it wasn’t because I wasn’t trying. There were people that would intercede, and I knew, after the last one, I was absolutely convinced that I will kill the next one.

Video # 2

Family violence in the form of emotional/psychological abuse, the healing powers of sweats and ceremonies

And fortunately I never turned my anger on my family, in a physical way, but I abused my wife and kids emotionally I guess, psychologically. They were terrified of me and I wanted it to stop and I didn’t know what I was going to do.

I got invited to go to a sweat. It was a woman who invited me because it was for her birthday. There were a bunch of us and my reason for going to the sweat had nothing to do with spirituality.

I knew what it was going to be, it was going to be dark, and it was going to be hot, and it was going to be sweaty. So this was what went through my mind and I went into that sweat; and it wasn’t very long before I suddenly saw what I had become, and I wanted no part of that and I yelled, “Let me the Hell out of here!”  And I forced my way out. I wanted no part of that.

It was a couple weeks later I was convinced, this guy practically twisted my arm to get me in the sweat again, and this was in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and I decided, “I’m going to face me.”

It was the first time that I can recall crying since I was a kid and I was ashamed of myself and I walked out after four rounds.

This Navajo guy came up and he put his arm around my shoulder and he says, “Congratulations, Woody, now you’re weak enough to be a man.” [laugh]

So from that, I went to an Apache psychologist who turned out also to be a medicine man. He took me into a sweat. And then from there I went into peyote ceremonies, I went to more sweat ceremonies…

In and out of treatment centers until going to Poundmaker in Alberta

I went to AA and found out I’m not an alcoholic. I went to Alanon and I just got mad. Nobody should have to learn how to live with an alcoholic. And then I found a program called Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACoA) and I stuck with them for a long time until finally I went to a treatment program in Northern Alberta, right outside of Edmonton, called Poundmaker, and that’s when the rage broke.

Fitting back in

It was only after that rage broke that I could start fitting back in to becoming part of a group again, because up until then I was still pretty much a lone wolf, going at it alone. And when I saw the movie made by the Maori, Once Were Warriors, I was able to totally identify with everything in that film except for beating up women and children.

Women as the basis of Haida culture, respecting children

And so when we talk about family violence, about what we do to our families, like I said, they turned everything backwards on us, they turned everything upside down. In Haida, the whole basis of our culture is based on women.

I was told that when the totem—they’re not true totems in the sense they’re on the east coast, because there’s no spiritual relationship between me and any of the figures on that pole, that’s a family history, called [???].  [???] means “it’s standing.”

I was told that the person that commissions that pole, the top figure is his clan, crest, whatever, and then probably his uncles. But the bottom was always the crest of his wife. So when people say low man on a totem pole, that’s as far from being correct as you can get. That denotes someone of very low stature, someone that’s really worthless. But, again, that’s not correct.

They dig a hole, they put that pole in, they stand it up, and it’s said that the woman’s feet are in the water, her body is in the land, her upper torso is in the air. So it says that female energy ties together water, earth, and sky, and her husband is balanced on her shoulders, so if she loses her balance, they fall. So not only does that female energy tie together that water, earth, and sky, the balance of the cosmos is entirely dependent on the stability of that female energy.

That takes us totally out of the realm of everything that’s been brought and dumped on us. Children and women are chattel. They’re owned. They can be abused. They can be bought and sold, sexually abused, physically abused, and mostly whatever, because they’re not even humans.

But for us, a child is an adult who has not yet learned the proper ways of doing things.

Going back to Native thinking to face problems and heal

I started remembering a lot of things I had wiped out, even simple things. They turned everything backwards on us. They turned our world upside down.

They would tell me, “When you’ve got some bad thing that’s happened, put it behind you.

And then I started remembering, in Haida when we talk about the past, [?????], “It’s way over there.” The past is in front of me, not behind me. I can see it.

It’s like I’m sitting in the river and the river is coming this way. When something shows up, I have to deal with it then, because it’ll never be there again. Once in awhile, in a river, something will get caught in it, and it’ll hit me. That’s that traumatic experience. If I put it behind me like they said, it’s going to hit me in the face again, but if I let it go, I can see where it fits in to my history and it starts to make sense.

That’s when another part of my healing began. I could see. And there’s times I get, I guess, depressed, when I start seeing me, the journey I’ve been on and the people I’ve hurt, but it’s all part of me, I can’t deny it.

Tendency to fight and finding an alternative to rage

I used to pick the biggest guy I could find; maybe I was hoping, this one could kill me. I wasn’t what you would call a good fighter. I was just crazy. I wouldn’t even remember it afterward when the rage was gone.

In the ten years that I tried to figure out how to make that stop, I managed to meet a lot of Elders from a lot of places all across North America, from Africa, New Zealand, Australia, and Indonesia. It all seemed like we were trying to find the same thing, we were all trying to find our way back.  A man from West Africa said, “You know, we’ve got to stop once in awhile and let your spirit catch up.”   “Well, how the Hell is my spirit going to catch up when I don’t know where it is?”

Strategy for recovering your spirit, healing

One day, I asked an old, old man. I said, “How do I find my spirit?”

He said, “It’ll find you.”

And I asked, “How am I going to do that?”

And he said, “Stand on the land that’s your home. Carry your mind. Just stand there quiet. Pretty soon you’ll feel your spirit come back.”

And that’s when my healing began, when I could feel that come back again.

Going back to Native thinking to face problems and heal

I started remembering a lot of things I had wiped out, even simple things.

What to pray for and being thankful; stories as information

So in Haida I was told that there’s four things I could ask for when I prayed, I mean five. One was give me the strength to be strong enough to be weak, the courage to be tall enough not to be small—my stature is determined by how tall I am, not how small I make somebody else look, the clear vision to see where I’ve been, the guidance to take me where I’m going, and the protection I’m going to need on my journey. Beyond that, I can only say thank you rather than giving a shopping list, because if I start asking for something, I’m trying to tell God or this power, I’m powerful too, and you’re not giving it to me, because you don’t know enough to give me the things I want.

It fits right back into, like with my two children, well, my daughter turned 39 for the first time, but anyway, when they want advice, I don’t give it to them. I never offer it to them. What I do is tell them a story and within the story is information they can use, but it doesn’t tell them which way to go. To me, it’s the same thing when we’re praying. If I’m asking for something, I’m telling God or whatever that spirit is, I’m smart enough to know what I need rather than what I’m going to be given.

Coping with emotions and personality growth after addiction

But when you try to go through treatment programs, now, Adult Children of Alcoholics, this one was a little bit different. One of the things I learned in there was that it does not matter what culture, what language, what nationality, what religion you are, alcohol affects everybody exactly the same way, addictions do. And you can go to a program like AA or NA or whatever, that’ll keep you clean and sober, but once the addiction begins, personality growth ceases; and so by just staying sober or clean does nothing to restart that growth.

One of the things I learned from the Adult Children of Alcoholics, about this co-dependency, is that, the only requirement for membership was the desire to be happy, and once you start the process, you start again finding out that you have feelings. Because when you’re in the other situation, like with PTSD and the rest of this stuff, you have two feelings—fear; you scare me, you better run, because immediately I switch it into anger.

So when I started experiencing these other feelings, I had no idea what was going on. So they gave me a sheet that had the names of all these feelings on it. So I used to keep it there in my office and I’d feel something and I’d look at it and say oh, that’s what I’m feeling. And it was really fascinating to find out I had so many different feelings about different things.

What you learn is that when you hit a certain point in your healing, your recovery, you get scared, because I don’t know what the rules are anymore. There are no rules.

Strategy for slowing down, finding your spirit

Each one of us has to, again, be able to see it, and there’s a very simple way that you can start learning it. It was all part of when I was being taught to be a storyteller. If you’ve got a place where you can go and sit down and you’ve got trees and grass and it’s not noisy. Go there and sit down; just look, to see what’s there. You don’t analyze anything. Your mind will take you to certain things because of sounds, but don’t pause there, just look. Take your time, look at things, and when you’re ready, leave.

Next day, few days later, sit down, do it again. And do it again and again and again. It’ll slow you down, that’s what you got to do, slow down. But we keep trying to go faster and faster and faster.

Now you know that your spirit can come back. You’ve given her a place to come back to. You sitting there with the power that’s always there, [????], all the things that our ancestors learned, they’re here; we just have to be able to see them, to be able to hear them, to be able to ask for them.

Preparing for prophecy of times changing

We have to start teaching our young people—how do we get back together again? If we’re going to deal with alcoholism, deal with drug addiction, and all that physical violence, and all the stuff we do to each other, we have to start seeing how we all fit back together.

It’s simple to say, cause we can’t do it all in one shot.  It has taken us a few hundred years to get here; but we have it in us to do it. It’s here, the [???],the [???], my spirit, it’s right here, but we have it in there. And when you feel that empty hurt feeling, push it out, because it means you gave up your power.

We have to learn again about competition, how instead of me trying to run faster than you, if I know I’m faster than you, I’ll run a little bit behind you to make you run faster rather than trying to beat you.