My maternal great-grandparents are Mary Louise Matchemuttaw and Louis Cardinal; my grandmother is Adelaide Cardinal, who is now 97, and my late grandfather was the late George Gullion (Métis); my late paternal grandparents were Philomene Young and Joseph Auger; and my late parents were Matilda Cardinal and Patrick Auger. We are Cree with Ojibwa (Nahkawiyinowak) of Wolf Clan ancestry. I am Darlene Auger, mother of two girls, Fawn and Kīstin. Fawn is 23, she is an Artist and Kistin is 18 and she is a Scholar at UofA. I’m so proud of both my girls. 🙂
I was born and raised in Desmarais/Wabasca and left home at the age of 20 to further my education. I originally pursued a degree in Education at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. I completed two years of that program before transferring to a Psychology Major program from which I graduated in 2002. It took me many years to complete my degree, as I paid my own way through school while simultaneously working and raising my children. I have always had a keen interest in spirituality, healing, early childhood development; in developing cultural materials and curriculum; research and in the performing arts.
I grew up surrounded by family and extended family. Everyone in my community knew everyone and we all had an open door policy. People came and went to our little cabin throughout the day. My two old aunts were usually outside, tending to outside tasks, such as, tanning hides; drying meat or fish. My father built canoes and he net fished; My mother would be cooking or hanging freshly washed clothes out on the clothes line with my older sisters helping; My older brother could be found chopping wood for our cook stove or hauling water from the lake; My grandparents would be picking medicines and hanging them to dry inside our log cabin; sewing, beading; skinning animals; stretching furs or drumming and singing if not visiting. And me – well I was little, so I played and ran free, a happy child J I had seven siblings and thirteen of us lived in the crowded comfort of my grandfather’s log cabin. I can still hear the hand drum songs of my uncle when I close my eyes and remember. I sure miss those days. However, in my family, there are three generations of former Indian residential school students. My grandparents, parents and my eldest sibling attended the St. Martin’s Indian Residential School in Desmarais. Although we have been able to maintain our Cree language and culture, all was not well in our house hold or in our community – we were not spared the negative impacts of the Indian residential school system, no one was. We no longer practiced our ceremonies; alcohol abuse and violence was rampant; and children continued to be taken away under government rule. I am a witness of this era and I hold the life learning within me – this fuels my passion to heal and regain my indigeneity and help others to heal and regain their indigeneity.
My Aunt Julie was a strong, kind and diligent teacher of Cree language and culture; she taught me to write in Syllabics when I was a young woman; I found it easy to learn as I could speak fluent Cree. I will forever be grateful that I am still able to speak and write in my Cree language. Having the ability to speak and write in Cree has benefited me greatly in both my personal and professional life. I often get called upon to translate documents, to create Cree curriculum, to sing in Cree, and most importantly, I am able to sit comfortably with Elders in ceremony and understand what they are saying. I am able to grasp teachings and maintain cultural ties to my people and to the land. I feel very sad for my peers who are not able to understand or speak our language because they experience such a huge disconnect from our Elders, our ceremonies, our ways of being, our culture, and our spirit. Language and culture go hand in hand; one cannot be truly grasped without the other.
It is for these reasons that I am so passionate about being part of the conciliation of language and culture for Cree peoples. I am fortunate to have the skills, knowledge and spirit to help people heal their pain from the loss of language and culture; from the loss of parenting skills; from the loss of loving and nurturing self and others; and from the loss of having healthy, strong kinship, family/community structures and relationships.
Helping is a huge responsibility; In fact in our Cree culture, a HELPER is called an “OSKâPEW”, an esteemed title which holds many rights and privileges in ceremony and with Elders. The literal translation into English means “young man,” as in the day of old, young men and women were naturally paired up with old men and women to be their life helpers. I felt very sad for my grandmother the day she asked for an “Oskinekiskwew,” a young woman, to come and live with her and be her life helper and we had to tell her that no one does that anymore, that all the young women are going to school or working now. Awww…. My poor granny. Although we have lost many of our Indigenous ways of being, it is important for us who know or remember, to pass on our values, beliefs and practices.
I have faith in a higher power and I believe I was gifted with the knowledge, skills and attitude to do the type of work necessary to help people move from their suffering towards a more positive, kind and loving way of being in this world. This brings me to a “spiritual vision” I experienced in a tipi during a pipe ceremony with Elders, at Poundmaker’s Lodge in the autumn of 2001, the site of the very first Indian residential school healing gathering.
While the Elders were singing their final song, I saw in front of me, a large adult size baby swing (wîwîp’son) (cradle/hammock) ties from one tripod pole to the other. I heard a grandmother spirit say, in Cree, “The people need to be swung.” I felt I was in a dream state but I could still see and hear the Elders in the Tipi. I saw an adult wrapped up like a little baby, cradled in the swing in the centre. I thought of all the little children in Indian residential schools who did not get the nurturing they needed and all the little ones in the next generation that were not parented with love and nurturing and so on and so forth to the present day. I thought of all the children who were never swung, sung to, prayed for, and loved in such a sacred way. I was rattled with emotion and compassion and a hug huge LOVE.
In order for me to gain a better understanding and direction for this vision, I went to FAST for 4 days in the bush (taking no food or water), this is what I knew to do to gain spiritual guidance. After years of talking with numerous Elders, I have come to accept my gift for healing and teaching. I have dedicated the last twelve years of my life living out this vision and it has truly been an amazing journey for me and for those who partake in wîwîp’son – the Healing Swing. I have birthed and developed “swing therapy” for adults and children. It has its roots in the traditional Native baby swing, which was an ancient nurturing parenting practice for infants, that we are losing. However, the acceptance and demand for this form of therapy, throughout Canada and abroad, has continued to grow and grow, to the point at which I now find myself, needing to train other women to become “Swing Therapists” hence my doctorate program (which is another chapter in my life). Many people, including therapists, doctors and nurses, have taken an interest in Wîwîp’son and its healing ability. Some professionals and organizations have requested training to use the swing in their practice. I feel moved to continue this journey and train therapists, social workers, childcare workers, educators to utilize wiwip’son within their own practice. For the last 13 years, I have offered traditional teaching workshops on Wîwîp’son and private healing sessions, traveling all across Canada and abroad.
In addition to the therapy, I am very eager to teach young Native mothers about the ancient traditional native baby swing, which is an old but still very effective nurturing parenting practice that will benefit many babies to come. You see, besides the great loss of culture and language, the Indian residential school system eradicated traditional parenting practices and rites of passage for children, that have been passed down through the generations. I have been invited to group homes, mother’s groups, private homes, parenting programs, hospitals, daycares, schools and other programs to share teachings of traditional parenting practices. Some of this knowledge I gained from experiences of my own childhood, as a parent, from Elders, and some directly from spirit through ceremony, visions and dreams. I feel I have a responsibility to pass this knowing forward.
I also have a home-based consulting company—“Pītāpan Consulting”—that assists in community development through research; material and curriculum development; program and project development, evaluation and Cree language teaching, translating including SRO and Syllabics. I am also a co-founder of Old Earth Productions, an Aboriginal theatre company based out of Edmonton Alberta, whose mandate is to gather and share stories of those less heard; we believe in utilizing theatre to inspire social awareness and change. Recently we toured our production entitled A Musta Be: Maskihkiy Maskwa Iskwew, a play about the intergenerational effects of incarceration, IRS, and other systemic institutions leading to the murdered and missing Aboriginal women in Canada – check out our Facebook page.
In reading back through my biography, I sound very serious but I am quite the contrary. I love to laugh and my friends think I’m pretty funny even though I don’t intend to be – although I do always mess up my clichés. I’m just silly and I get this little girl spirit that wants to play and not worry about too much. Tee hee. I like to sing and act (live theatre) – I’ve been singing since I was wee little, and Acting since my teens – it is my creative out for stress and pain, my personal therapy. Recently my hunny bought me a guitar and now at the age of 48, I am learning how to play – well I say that but really my guitar is sitting over there collecting dust while I sit on my computer, writing and researching. I’m currently enrolled in my third year of a doctorate program at the Blue Quills College University called: Iyiniw Pimatisiwin Kiskeyihtamowin (Indigneous Life Knowledge). It is my hope that the completion of this program will find me in a position to develop and offer a “Wiwip’son Therapist” certificate program. I need to train other women to do this work because there is so much work to be done.
By the way—I will learn to play a song by the time I finish my doctorate—sheesh, I better! 🙂 Oh and my favorite meal is fried moose with onions and mashed potatoes—yummy!