Ep. 49 – Monique Gray Smith – When We Are Kind
- How to have conversations with children about Indigenous history.
- Practices that replenish our spirit.
- Cultivating gifts in our children that will uniquely contribute to the wellness of the world.
In her newest children’s book, Indigenous author Monique Gray Smith writes, “When we are kind we remember we are all related.”
Monique’s celebrated works on Truth and Reconciliation offer a doorway into discovering our shared humanity – and kindness is the key. In this episode, she describes simple everyday ways that kindness unleashes our ‘littlest citizens’, and us as adults, to talk, listen, trust and love.
Monique Gray SmithMonique Grey Smith is an award winning Indigenous author with titles including You Hold Me Up, My Heart Fills With Happiness and her new book for preschoolers called When We Are Kind.
She’s also an educator, healer and sought after consultant for Indigenous culture and history. She provides curriculum for schools across North America, increasing understanding of the legacy of residential schools and the impacts felt by survivors and their families.
As a champion for ‘the littlest citizens’ she recognizes the importance of supporting and protecting young children through their developmental stages.
Ep. 49 – Monique Gray Smith – When We Are Kind
Rachel Cram – Monique Grey Smith, thank you so much for meeting with me today. It is a pleasure to talk to you.
Monique Gray Smith – Pleasure is mine.
Rachel Cram – I love the beginning of your podcast. You usually start describing where you’re sitting, how you’re looking out the window. Are you looking out on anything beautiful today?
Monique Gray Smith – I am. I’m really grateful again to have woken up on the traditional territory of the W̱SÁNEĆ people and the lək̓ʷəŋən speaking people known as Victoria, British Columbia. And I’m grateful for those who have been the stewards of these lands and waters for generations and those little citizens who will be in the future. I’m grateful to thrive here and to raise my family here for sure.
Rachel Cram – Well you are amazing with the little citizens, I love that terminology, and that’s so important in my life as well so I’m very excited to work towards caring for those little citizens together, even through this conversation.
Monique, often at the beginning of my conversations with guests, I love to start with a question that connects our listeners to our guests. You are a very accomplished author, but also you’re a very real person like the rest of us. And when I mentioned this in an email to you yesterday, actually you said you laughed when you heard the question. So I have no idea how you want to answer this, but I’m excited to hear.
So my question for you is this. Aristotle stated, “Give me a child at seven and I will show you the adult.” And I’m wondering Monique, is there a story or experience from your childhood that you see as formative into the woman that you are today?
Monique Gray Smith – For sure, this is why I laugh, because my family also loves to tell this story that when I was five I wanted to go to church. Nobody in my family was sort of willing to kind of compromise their values to go with me. But my dad organized for the church bus to come and pick me up, and my grandma made this beautiful shawl for me to wear. My mom got me a dress which wasn’t comfortable, but it was her way of supporting me. And I can remember standing at the edge of the driveway by myself. I knew my parents were watching in the window, waiting for the bus to come. The bus pulled up, the door opened and I got on. I don’t honestly have a memory of going to church. I just have a memory of the journey to kind of get there. And I thought of that story and laughed out loud because I can just see my little five year old self like, “OK. We’re going to church.”
And I think what it was, was that somehow in my mind, I had it as a place of belonging, as a place of community, and I was longing for that, even though I had some of that in my family and where I lived, I was really still longing for it in a big way. And I think that it has profoundly influenced who I am.
I have a very good friend, she says, you know, you’re the goalmaker. You set a goal and you make it happen. And I think that story is probably one of the most poignant ones of my life, because I was like five like, where did that come from?
Rachel Cram – Wow. Well, I’m even thinking in the much broader story of indigenous history, the church has absolutely not been a place of belonging. So I find that so interesting and amazing that your parents were so supportive in the midst of all of that, of allowing you to follow that goal and that dream.
Monique Gray Smith – For sure, and they weren’t willing to compromise what was important to them, but they were like, “OK, well, if you want to explore this, then we’ll support you to do that.
Rachel Cram – Hmm. That’s amazing.
Monique Gray Smith – And that really is you know, my dad was really in and out of our lives all my life. But my mom, that’s how she’s raised my sister and I really. “Here’s the space opening. Here’s the opportunity. Go for it.
We didn’t really have many rules in our house. Be respectful, be kind. And she always said and still says to this day when we leave her presence, “Have fun.” And so in a house where there wasn’t a lot of rules except for be respectful and be kind, it really gives a lot of freedom to flourish and to be like, “OK, well I have this idea so how do I make that happen? Or I want to learn about this. How do I do that,” instead of the confines of, “Well, this is what we do and this is how we do it and this is when we do it,” and so my mom has also influenced our parenting for sure.
Rachel Cram – Perhaps in speaking of your family Monique, this is an appropriate time to mention, two days ago we heard of the 215 bodies of children buried under the Indian Residential School site in Kamloops. And I know you have direct family members who attended that school as children.
We’d booked our conversation together weeks prior, but I am honoured by your time with me and I realize the discovery of these children surprised those of us who were ignorant more than those of us who were not. Yet still,
Monique Grey Smith – It’s hard to witness. It’s really hard to witness.
Rachel Cram – There is still so much to be understood and reconciled and I come to this conversation perhaps apologetically awkward in some of my questions, knowing there is so much more that I need to learn and witness.
Monique Gray Smith – Well, I thank you for that humility, because that is a part of reconciliation; as we walk this journey together for the non-indigenous people to have humility. And that hasn’t always been fostered in this place we call Canada. There is a privilege that has been here for a very long time. And so I’m grateful for your humility and your openness and honesty. Thank you for that.
Rachel Cram – Well, and thank you for allowing me to learn from you. Even in preparing for this interview, I feel like I’ve learned so much. You describe at the beginning of one of your podcasts that there’s four unwritten rules that were created around the residential schools. And the four rules are don’t talk, don’t trust, don’t love, don’t feel. And I feel like probably all of your writing and all of your speaking is aimed towards unleashing those four rules, for children, who you call the little citizens, but also for us big people as well.
Monique Gray Smith – For sure. Thank you. Those rules really came out when I was doing a lot of research for a book I wrote called Speaking Our Truth: A Journey of Reconciliation that shows many of the legislative decisions that happened in Canada, that have and continue to influence our wellness, and that the survivors of residential school talked about that these were the four unwritten rules; don’t talk, don’t trust, don’t feel and don’t love. And so that’s our work today is to support little citizens and us as adults. Even you saying, “You know, I feel a little awkward,” is about that emotional intelligence and emotional literacy and that we have generations in Canada who weren’t often raised understanding Canada’s history, the truth of Canada’s history, and so learning to have these conversations, to be able to talk about the truth without people getting defensive and their backs up and saying, “Well, that didn’t happen,” or “When are those people going to get over that?”
To talk about the truth that the first school opened in 1831 and the last school closed in 1996. And so we have seven generations who went through those schools. My stepdad, all of his family went to that school in Tk’emlúps te Secwe̓pemc, including his mom.
Rachel Cram – That’s the school that we were referencing? That school in Kamloops?
Monique Gray Smith – The school we were just referencing. So, there’s this ripple that we don’t talk about. Feelings were stuffed, however that was done. The love wasn’t allowed to flourish for the children who went to those schools and then the families that came after, because it’s that proverb, “What I live with I learn. What I learn, I practice. What I practice, I become. And what I become has consequences. And so when we think about the intergenerational healing that is unfolding, it’s because it was intergenerational trauma. And the love; for those children in the schools, that was not present. And so families are really learning about how to love, how to feel joy. And I think for me, that’s a really beautiful aspect of the healing that’s unfolding, is the love and the joy that’s beginning to really come forward.
Musical Interlude #1
Rachel Cram – As I read your books I get a sense of their deep encouragement for indigenous children and families. I also see how powerful they are for everybody else as well. Can we start with the first unwritten rule? Don’t talk. You say, Monique, that words are medicine. How have you seen that in your own life? How have words been medicine for you?
Monique Gray Smith – Well, when I think about stories, for example, right, whether they’re the stories of what happened in the schools, of elders, of the land of the water, the stories our children tell us when they come home after a day, those can be medicine for us. Those words that come out of stories can help heal our heart. They can create more knowledge in our brain. They can wake up the cellular wisdom that we all have. But if we don’t talk and if we don’t listen, then we really are missing this huge opportunity to connect to our common humanity. It’s in that connection to our common humanity where change really has the potential to happen.
Rachel Cram – I was listening to Thomas King, who I know, you know and have stood beside on a platform when you were getting book awards, which you won. Way to go. He says, “You have to be careful with the stories you tell and you have to watch out for the stories that you are told.”
With our children, even with stories of residential schools, where do you see that we need to be really careful?
Monique Gray Smith – Well, let me share a book. This is a really beautiful example of how to move forward in this way. It was written by David A Robertson and illustrated by Julie Flett, and it’s called When We Were Alone. It’s from the perspective of a grandmother and a granddaughter. And the granddaughter is like, “Why do you dress so wild and colorful? And why do you do this and why do you do that?”
She’s asking all these questions of her grandmother. And her grandmother tells her in many ways it’s her reclamation, it’s her resurgence as a residential school survivor. So she gives her granddaughter glimpses into what life was like in residential school; not enough to traumatize the child, but enough for the child to understand that when she was in school, her uniform was blue and gray, and that’s all she ever wore for all those years. So that’s why she dresses in all these wild colors now, right? It’s her reclamation. It’s her resurgence. And in the illustrations, when the grandmother’s talking about her time at residential school, Julie does the illustrations all in blacks and grays. And then when she’s talking about today, there’s all these beautiful colors. And so I share that example because that’s a way to tell a story. The stories we tell can give enough information for a little citizen or even an adult who might be coming to the conversation for the first time, to understand a little bit of what happened in a way that doesn’t traumatize them. I think that’s so important. And that’s why I write like I write. I write books that are door openers for people to begin to understand the truth of our history and our common humanity. And then other writers write the books that describe what happened. I don’t describe what happened.
Rachel Cram – Is there a specific rationale behind that choice? That you want to share?
Monique Gray Smith – Well, because I’m trained as a psychiatric nurse and I’m always aware that somebody could be reading one of my books alone in an isolated community before bed. And I don’t want them triggered, I don’t want them to not have resources of support if something stirs for them. I want them to be able to fill in the pieces to the stories if that’s what they want to do.
And for me, I don’t always read the stories or listen to the stories that tell all the details, because I have a tender heart. And it’s not that I dismiss those stories, but I know those stories and I don’t need to read them or hear them again. So I think it’s incumbent upon us to know what we are open to hearing and listening to now, it might be different in a year or five years. And what are the stories that our children can hear and understand?
Rachel Cram – How do you determine that for children? Do you consider age? Grade? Developmental level? Because I think that’s part of what makes it tricky to discuss this in schools.
Monique Gray Smith – I don’t put those in age groupings because families will know their children best. You might have a child who’s five who could read When We’re Alone, and you might have a child who’s nine who might not yet be able to make that connection. And so I don’t think it’s age dependent. Right. It’s, are they ready? And families know their children best.
Rachel Cram – Families do know their children best, however, it’s really important for this to be discussed in schools and your books are being woven into school curriculums around the world in a way that I see as very sensitive and meaningful. When I watch you with children, and thinking about your phrase ‘words are medicine,’ you speak words, but you also have a way of drawing words out of children really beautifully. You have a way of getting people to speak. And I think it’s the medicine of how you listen.
Monique Gray Smith – An elder told me, “Who you are, proceeds your entrance to the room. The energy you send in, the love you send in, the joy you send in, the curiosity you send in, all of that comes into the room before you do and it fills the space. So be careful about what you bring into the space. There’s some days when I have to do a lot of emotional and spiritual prep before I do class visits or before I go somewhere because I have stuff that happens in my life, I have stuff going on, and I need to be as clean as possible to be present in those moments so that the space fills up for them to be feeling safe. It’s when we feel safe that we open up.
Rachel Cram – What does that emotional and spiritual prep look like for you?
Monique Gray Smith – I smudge. My mom and my sister collected Sage last summer, so I smudge with that and sometimes with Sweetgrass, taking the smoke over my head asking for clear thoughts, smoke over my eyes that I may see good, smoke over my ears, that I may hear good, over my mouth, that I may speak clearly and with good intention and a beautiful heart and smoke over my body clearing anything that I might have picked up over the days. It’s sort of like, we have a shower and we cleanse our body but how often do we intentionally cleanse our spirit? So that’s one way. And then being outside, being out on the land and walking through the forest and working in the yard. Those are the ways for sure. And of course, being with my family. Family dinners and when the four of us are together are my greatest joys, and I’m always like, “Oh, this is like the best time of my…”
“We know mom.”
Rachel Cram – Still, you say the words.
Monique Gray Smith – I still say it because they need to hear it, they need to know that the time together is valuable. It’s precious to me.
Rachel Cram – You know, when you were talking about ‘filling the room,’ I just am quickly scurrying to find this quote because it’s from your book and this is a book for adults, Tilly: A Story Of Hope And Resilience. And it comes in a section of the story where Tilly is talking to her grandmother on the phone, just loving family like you’re talking about right now, and she’s talking exactly about this. She’s just been feeling upset. Right.
Monique Gray Smith – She has something that happens at school and she calls her grandma to talk about it.
Rachel Cram – Yeah. And so her grandma says, “Everyone is born with love in their hearts. Sometimes life takes that away, but we’re all born with it. So whenever you enter a room, in your imagination, fill it with love and make enough room for everyone else to fill that room with love too. That my girl, is when good things happen.”
I love that. I mean, if we could all live like that, that would be amazing.
Monique Gray Smith – Yeah. And we feel it right. And I think, you know, we’re coming out of COVID and that’s part of what people have really been missing, is being in those spaces where they’re filled with love with people that we don’t always get to see every day. That sense of belonging and community and connectedness is a big part of filling spaces with love and being part of something.
Musical Interlude #2
Rachel Cram – As I listen to these kind of practices, talking about smudging and just the language around filling a room, I find myself, wistful maybe is the right word, around the many practices and ceremonies embedded into your history, many of which I know you’re re-claiming, that seem to lead you into this depth of knowing of being. Or at least that’s how it seems to me. Would you say that’s true?
Monique Gray Smith – I think yeah, I think that it’s available to me, but I think that I’ve cultivated it as well. And I think that’s a really important piece, is that there’s so much available to all of us. No matter our income, the color of our skin, what abilities we may or may not have, there is a huge amount for us to cultivate our own spiritual, emotional, mental and physical wellness. And for me, sometimes it is really as raw and as simple as taking off my shoes and standing on the grass. Like, they don’t have to be huge, big things. That’s why I’m saying, like, I think many of these things are available to all of us. And yes, there are some for sure that are available to privilege, without question. But I think there are some simple things that, you know, when I take a drink of water, I offer Thanksgiving for that water and then drink the water.
But let me say, though, when I give that example, that it is a privilege because we have over 60 communities still in Canada on reserve communities that don’t have drinking water. Some of those communities don’t even have water that parents feel safe bathing their children in. So, yes, it is a privilege, actually, when I think about it in that way.
Rachel Cram – It’s a privilege to drink that water.
Yeah, we forget that. That’s an important reminder. Thank you Monique. You were saying that there are simple things that are available to all of us, things that cultivate our wellness and I’d love to read a few lines from your new children’s book called When We Are Kind, because I think this is one of those simple things. Kindness. If that’s ok with you?
Monique Gray Smith – Oh totally, yeah.
Rachel Cram – We’ve just purchased copies for all of 40 of our Wind and Tide Schools and I know it will become an important part of our early learning curriculum, so thank you. It’s a beautifully illustrated book and it reads like a children’s poem.
I’m just going to share a few lines.
Monique Grey Smith – Go for it.
Rachel Cram – Ok, Thank you. You wrote,
I am kind when I help my family.
I am kind when I share with my friends.
I am kind when I help my neighbour.
I am kind when I only take from the earth what I need.
When we are kind we remember we are all related.
These are lovely lines that awaken children, and remind us of the many kindnesses in life and
thinking as an early childhood educator, and as a parent, and as a human being, what you’re simply laying out for children in your book, this is kind of what it’s all about. No pun intended there. But this is what it’s all about, these simple things, but we get off track so easily not understanding that joy, love, respect, as you describe, flow from kindness.
Monique Gray Smith – Yeah. I think about that when we talk about our words, what we say to children, what we say to each other, what does it do to our spirits, what does it do to our sense of belonging and community and connectedness because as human beings, things people say, actions that happen, things we see, they land on us, right, and they can stick to us. So how do I nourish my spirit so that I can be respectful?
Rachel Cram – Well, and like you’re doing with your books for preschoolers, our best bet at changing society is by starting with the children on this right? There’s a quote I often refer to on this podcast, because it’s really the impetus for the podcast, and it’s from Mahatma Gandhi, saying, “If we want to reach peace in the world, we must begin with the children.” Like you’re saying, paying attention to what we say to children and what they hear us saying to each other. It can sound simplistic, but kindness changes everything.
Monique Gray Smith – Oh, for sure it does.
Rachel Cram – Especially when we realize we’re all related. Kindness opens our eyes and ears in ways that we don’t understand necessarily yet, but that we want to understand.
Monique Gray Smith – Or that maybe we don’t need to understand, right? We’re just like, “OK, well, I know that when I do this, or when I say this, or when I be on the land, or whatever it is, I feel different. I just know I feel that sense of belonging and community and connectedness. And that’s all I need to know.”
Rachel Cram – Well, and there’s so much that we trust in without needing to understand. Like you, we get up in the morning and flick on the light switch. No idea how that works, but I rely on it to put my makeup on. Well, and maybe this can lead us into the next unspoken rule, don’t trust and you are switching that to trust. And you talk about gifts. That every single person has gifts.
Monique Gray Smith – You know, so, I started to drink when I was 11 and I drank really heavily till I was 22 and I sobered up and after a year and a half, I went to treatment. And when I was there, I received my traditional name, mistikwaskihkos, which means little drum. And the day after the elder who I was working with, his name is Dr. Lee Brown, we went and we visited up on the mountain and he was asking me, “Do you know why you got that name?”
Because I’m like five foot one.
And he said, “We didn’t give you that name, Big Drum, because you’re not a big drum.”
He said, “We give you this name because part of the bundle of gifts you come into the world with are to remind people of their heartbeat.”
And so Lee was asking me, like, what does that mean to you? And I was like, I don’t really understand what that means. And he was explaining that, you know, on the Earth at any given time, there are not two people who have the same set of gifts. We all come into the world with this bundle of gifts that are our unique way to contribute to the wellness of the world. And if we don’t cultivate those and we don’t find ways to learn and to keep changing, our ability to contribute will be less and our personal joy and fulfillment will be less.
And so with our little citizens our role as adults in their lives are to watch them and to see what are the gifts they’ve been blessed with. And sometimes when a child is born, we see that right away. But sometimes the gifts, they take a little while to emerge. And so that’s our role is to really observe and to watch for those gifts and then to help groom them so that they can use those gifts in the best way possible.
Rachel Cram – Well, like your family did with you, in allowing your ‘goalmaker’ gifts to emerge, in supporting your desire to go to church even though that didn’t fit with their thoughts and plans, they encouraged yours, which I still find so amazing and thought provoking. There’s so much humility in allowing that kind of freedom for discovery. A lot of letting go as parents, of what we might think of as ‘right’ or ‘our child’s best route to success.’ Whatever that means.
Monique Gray Smith – Totally. We think about it that way, instead of “How are you contributing? How are you make any difference? Is there joy and happiness in your heart and in your life and in your family?”
In many ways, to me that’s where success is. It isn’t about who’s right, who’s best, you know, those other sort of more Western status symbols.
Rachel Cram – Humm. Well, and also as parents, we can be looking for the gifts that are obvious to us, maybe the ones that we have in our own lives, but our children, the gifts they have can be completely different than the gifts that we have. And that takes and that takes some careful attention.
Monique Gray Smith – And again, some humility. It’s like, “Oh, OK. Well, I guess I better learn about that because this is something that my child loves. And so if I’m going to be a parent that really upholds their dignity and walks beside them, then I got a little work to do.”
Rachel Cram – And gifts are something that you love.
I remember growing up always having this feeling that I was going to be called to do something that I hated.
But it isn’t like that. I think we are called to do things that we love. They’re kind of our natural passions.
Mm hmm. Yeah, for sure. My daughter, when she was eight or nine, I can’t remember, discovered cheerleading, and my wife and I are like, “OK, this is all new.”
And the very first competition was in Bellingham, Washington, and there were 4500 people there. The music was just blaring. And there she came right out on the stage with her team and she was just so alive. And I was like, “I guess I better learn about cheerleading.”
Rachel Cram – Ok, that’s a good example because listening to someone like you, I would be thinking you probably wouldn’t want to be nurturing, cheerleading in your child.
Because you’re somebody who’d be nurturing something like, oh, paddling down quiet streams and singing. You seem like you’re just so zen and calm and and into earthiness. I love that example, not to mold them into our own image or what we think should be their image.
Monique Gray Smith – Yeah. Well, and I think for me, that’s probably one of my greatest joys as a parent and as an auntie is to just watch them and be witness and see them emerge. And something people didn’t tell me about when I was pregnant was how much it would hurt when they hurt. Oh, my gosh. And not the physical hurts, but those really emotional hurts. Oh, it’s so difficult to witness and not want to fix it. To let them be in it, that it’s their journey. Yes, we can be tender, we can do all kinds of things, but it’s not mine to fix when they get cut from teams or they don’t pass the driving test, like all those pieces. Yeah, hard on my heart.
Rachel Cram – Yeah, I don’t think anything prepares you for a love like parenting. And you actually talk about this, that when you have a baby, everything kind of shifts and you understand love in a whole new way. And in those moments of babyhood, we truly do love totally for who they are in that space, not because of what they’re accomplishing, not because of what they’re going to be. It is a very beautiful kind of love that if we could just hold on to that for all of humanity.
That’s the key right there.
Monique Gray Smith – Yeah, well, in our brain oxytocin gets released. And it fosters attachment and it fosters a sense of belonging. And so that’s why often people want to be around babies or feel better around babies. It’s also what helps moms heal after delivery. It’s what gets released in breast milk. So we as adults get that flood, but so do they. And that’s where these Western terms of attachment and attunement come into place, is that when we have that love and we are present to it, we are present to our children.
I joke about a couple of things about having our twins. One that I learned why they use sleep deprivation as a form of torture.
Rachel Cram – Oh, and twins would really highlight that even more. Yeah.
Monique Gray Smith – And also just how intense that love is. So I’ll give this example. My wife and I used to play flag football and we played with Crystal Dunahee, whose son Michael went missing actually at a flag football practice.
Rachel Cram – Oh my goodness, I remember that. That was like twenty five years ago.
Monique Gray Smith – At least twenty five years ago.
Rachel Cram – Yeah, I remember he was four years old.
Monique Gray Smith – And so, you know, we would participate in the Michael Dunahee runs and walks and the activities every year. But I can remember probably on day two after our twins were born, I was walking in the hospital trying to get my body to function again. And it just hit me. I understood at a whole different level the grief for Crystal and her husband and their daughter. Now, being a parent and feeling so protective of my children and having that love that I had never experienced before, I’d never experienced that kind of love before.
Rachel Cram – Yeah, it’s so interesting you bring up the Dunahees. My oldest son is right around the same age as Micheal would be now, and I’ve thought of them so many times over the last years. Theirs is an extreme example of trauma, but, I know what you mean about understanding it differently when we have our own kids. I think parenting opens us to whole new levels of love and pain.
Monique Gray Smith – For sure it does. Yeah, but sometimes in our histories, there’s been trauma and it can be difficult to connect to a child or baby because of fears of loving so intensely.
Musical Interlude #3
Rachel Cram – You know, love is such a oh it’s such a complicated, massive, essential topic for us to explore because I feel so much and I’m not speaking alone in this, that I think that’s our hope for the future, that we learn to do this better as human beings. There is what’s been called the golden rule. I think every religion has a version of it, you know, love others as you love yourself or treat other people like you want to be treated. I think when there’s a trauma in there or even just in the daily complications of life, if we don’t know how to love ourselves, if we haven’t learned how to do that, that makes giving it to other people so difficult.
Monique Gray Smith – And it’s the loving ourselves. And people go, oh, that’s all woo woo, hippie stuff. But to me, it’s the difference between, like, how do we take care of ourselves? Like, I think about drinking water right. It’s self care. But loving myself is “How do I nourish my spirit? So for me, it’s like walking in the woods or sitting by the water or family dinner or a really amazing phone call with a friend.
And so how do we nourish our spirits? Because for me, when I get depleted as a parent, I’m not a very good parent. And I think that’s probably one of the greatest gifts for me out of this pandemic. Prior to it, I was traveling a huge amount for work. And then when I would come home, I did have guilt as a parent that I wasn’t here more. And so I would be out of balance because I would be doing more with my family and not caring for me. And these last 16 months have really provided a recalibration time. And now the requests are coming in for in person gigs, and I’m just like, “One a month. That’s it.”
Rachel Cram – You’re protecting your spirit.
Monique Gray Smith – Yeah.
Rachel Cram – OK, I’m just going to sort of retrack on where we’ve been if that’s ok with you?
Monique Gray Smith – Sure
Rachel Cram – You’ve talked about the damage of ‘don’t talk’ and using our words as medicine. ‘Don’t trust,’ and trusting our unique gifts and the gifts of our children as important and necessary. Then you talked about ‘don’t love,’ and how love nourishes our spirit, and Monique, obviously there is so much more you could say on all these, but the last of the four unwritten rules you mentioned is ‘don’t feel.’ And we need to feel.
You’ve written a beautiful book called My Heart Fills with Happiness and happiness is often a feeling we’re reluctant to claim. I think it can almost feel frivolous. And like your book When We Are Kind, this is a book for children, but a poignant reminder for parents too as you describe how your heart fills with happiness when you allow yourself to feel the sun on your face, or like I think you’ve already mentioned in the interview, you write it in here, you love to feel grass on your feet as you walk barefoot,
Monique Gray Smith – Bliss
Rachel Cram – or hold the hand of someone you love.
Monique Gray Smith – Mm hmm. Those are some of the times when, you know, there can be so much still happening, but those moments are really precious and they do, I know it sounds corny, but they really do fill my heart with happiness.
Rachel Cram – It doesn’t sound corny at all. I’m loving it. Now you also talk about ‘liminal spaces,’ space in between, transitional spaces, being really important in your day as places with easier access to feeling. Can you describe those?
Monique Gray Smith – I think of it kind of in three ways, one being that sacredness of space just before we fall asleep. And for me, often, especially if I’m working on a project, that’s when the ideas come. That’s when the dialog comes. That’s when the story ideas come.
Rachel Cram – Why do you think it comes then? What’s in that space that accesses a different kind of feeling?
Monique Gray Smith – I think that we are entering into dream time, into that sacred time. And so the defenses come down, the chitter chatter in my brain comes down so that the messages can come in. So that’s one time. And then that’s often also the awkward time, right? Like, it’s like, OK, I got to write this down or I got to record this on my phone, because if I don’t, I don’t remember it in the morning.
Rachel Cram – It’s gone. Yeah.
Monique Gray Smith – And then the other one is in the morning. Right. Just in that place between full wakefulness and still just waking. And that’s the place for me where my practice is offering Thanksgiving for a safe passage through the night and for the gift of living another day and doing three to four things that morning in my mind before I even get out of bed, before I pull the covers back, what am I grateful for today? And really attempting to have different aspects of what I’m grateful for every day. And I just find if I don’t do that in the morning that I am a bit disgruntled in the day because that practice of starting with gratitude, it just alters me, so that I walk in the world that day in that place of gratitude.
Rachel Cram – Are there practices that we can do that make that kind of space available to us? You’ve given the organic times of falling asleep and waking up and I can so relate to that experience. Are there practices we can do in our day as adults or as children to avail ourselves to that space in between where we think differently and feel different?
Monique Gray Smith – For me, again, it’s smudging. Before I write, I always smudge. It helps me to be grounded. And so people will have other practices to do that. It might be that they offer a prayer, maybe they make a special cup of tea. It’s just something to slow us, and separate us for a moment from the rest of the busyness of life, whether it’s five minutes or three hours for a sacred space and reflection. The other one for me is going for a walk, that movement when we go left, right, cross, cross, cross causes synaptic firing between both sides of the brain.
Rachel Cram – As we’re taking our steps and swinging our arms.
Monique Gray Smith – Yeah. And that’s why sometimes people like, “Oh, I go for a walk when I need to solve a problem. I go for a walk when I need to think about, “How am I going to have this conversation with my child? I go for a walk when I need to have the wind brush me off because I’m carrying a whole bunch of stuff that I don’t want to carry anymore.” Right.
So those are two practices. People will light a candle. There are ways to just slow us down so that the messages we need to hear can come through. But if we don’t do that, then the messages still show up, we just don’t hear them. And then we might get sideswiped on a Tuesday and get a really loud message that might put us in bed or, if we don’t listen, we will be forced to listen.
Rachel Cram – And that’s the truth of it isn’t it. I love what you’re describing, that practice, slowing down to hear messages, and right or wrong it catches my attention because it has a purpose attached to it. I definitely want this for my children, so why not for myself as well.
Monique Gray Smith – Yeah, for sure. And I think role modeling that, “You know what, Mama needs ten minutes right now, a real quiet time. So I’m going to go lie down and when I come back then let’s have this visit, this conversation. Because it shows boundaries for one and it shows that I have to take care of myself so that I can be present in the best way possible with you. So I hope that answers your questions.
Rachel Cram – Yeah, no, it does. I just want to ask, what is smudging? I know you described it earlier, but how does smudging make space available for you to nurture your spirit?
Monique Gray Smith – Well, it’s a cleansing. So like I was saying, I have my smudge bowl, which is an abalone shell, and in there I put either sage, or sweet grass or sometimes I’ll put cedar in. Those are the four sacred medicines, sage, sweet grass, cedar and tobacco and not tobacco like you buy at the counter at 7-Eleven, but tobacco that we grow, that is medicine. And either together or individually, those are burned. And the smoke is used to, as I said earlier, cleanse my head so I have good thoughts. Cleanse my eyes. It’s just like a shower, right? We cleanse or wash our face every day but we need to also cleanse our spirit and we need people to just keep reminding us. “Well, let’s just keep doing that practice, “What am I grateful for today? I’m grateful for my breath. I’m grateful for the food I’m going to eat. I’m grateful for the water I’m going to drink. Those are three simple ones. Right. And then we can just keep everyday elaborating on those.
Music Interlude #4
Thanks for listening to family360 and our conversation with Indiginous author and healer Monique Gray Smith.
Our next episode is with Australian podcast host and parenting educator Maggie Dent who’s newest book, Parental As Anything, releases in North America this month. She shares wisdom from it’s pages, offering playful, profound and practical encouragement for parents.
And now back to the conclusion of our conversation with Monique Gray Smith as she describes our unique opportunity and responsibility as the ancestors of our descendants.
Rachel Cram – In speaking of gratitude and how people remind us of practices and values that cleanse our spirit, you have this lovely story about acknowledging the great cloud of witnesses, that have gone before us, people whose lives have inspired our practices, and I’m wondering if you’d want to share that story, and then before we end I’d love you to talk about being a good ancestor for future generations. I love that framing. But start with the story.
Monique Gray Smith – Yeah, a few years ago, I was invited to be a witness for the 25th anniversary of Aboriginal Head Start, which are our cultural preschool’s and to write a reflections document on it. And when we were presenting that Reflections Document, there was a room full of people who worked in and were really instrumental in Head Start. And I said, “Let’s go around the room and say the names of people who aren’t able to be with us in person.”
And as we did the whole energy in the room changed. The energy calmed but it was also like it got sparkie in the room, and not a frenetic sparkie, but just like, wow. Like almost those people came to join us when their names were said. And what I thought about was how we just held up the contributions of all those people whose names we just said. And that was the inspiration for the book, You Hold Me Up. And I think about that a lot, that when we say people’s names and when we call people forward like that by saying their names, that I think they feel it. They may not be conscious of it, but “Oh, I just got a goosebump. I don’t know why.”
Or, “I just got a shiver or a flood of hope for a moment.”
My mum used to say, “Oh, I wonder who’s thinking about you?”
And it’s like how do we fill the spaces where we hold up those who have come before us, who have made my existence possible? It’s like being on a bridge and when I look behind me on that bridge, I realize that I am the descendant of my ancestors, they’re why I’m here. And when I look forward on that bridge, I am the ancestor to my descendants. So how I live my life, how I speak, how I navigate the world, what I role model, how I care for myself is really important for them to witness. Those stories keep going forward so that when I’m not here, my children and my nieces know the stories about who made a difference. But how did that happen?
I think that’s part of the piece about when we say those names then it invokes in us a responsibility to not necessarily be like them, but to follow their leadership when things are hard. Because when things are easy it’s easy to be a respectful decent human being, it’s when things are hard that it isn’t always easy to be that respectful, decent human being.
Rachel Cram – Well, then in several hundred years, your great, great, great grandchildren will be speaking the name Monique Gray Smith. That’s pretty amazing.
Monique Gray Smith – It’s kind of wild to think. Yeah.
Rachel Cram – Monique as you’re talking about thinking about the people that have gone before us from generations past, I know it’s a very important part of indigenous culture to think seven generations forward as well, which I feel like why are we all not thinking like that? That is what we need to keep our planet going. I’m wondering as an end question, could you leave with the hopeful description of what that kind of seven generational thinking does for us as human beings?
Monique Gray Smith – For me it means that I’m thinking about the decisions that I make, how do they influence my children and then the next six generations. And not only the decisions I make, but it’s how people have felt in our presence that is really our legacy.
So I’ll give you an example. My grandma, she was very stoic. You knew she loved you, but it wasn’t always demonstrative, it was in the little ways she was in being; like helping make bread, she would just gently put her hand over and show you. If you’re playing Canasta with her, we played a lot of cards or Crib, she would just give you a little look that let you know, “I got all the aces, we’re good.” She just had these ways.
And when I was doing her eulogy, when she passed away, I discovered that my grandma, her name was Dorothy Glendinning, she founded the elder care home. She founded the library. She founded the community center. She founded the museum. And she was the founder of the ladies luncheon. I didn’t know all this, that she was that kind of a leader because she never talked about that. She didn’t boast about it. But I knew it by how she lived her life and how she was with my sister and I. And she wasn’t always kind. But I think that was also in her generation, how as a woman, she made things happen. Because it took a different spirit in that time to make things happen as a woman. And so I think about that, even though my mom was adopted, my grandmother’s blood does not run through me, her influence runs through me and it reminds me about the decisions I make, the ways of being I am today and how that influences my children.
I think that sometimes we get so busy in the decision making, and the business of life, that we don’t pause to realize that it’s in the small decisions, that there are significant changes that happen. And those small decisions have a ripple effect for the next seven generations. And it calls on us then to slow down, to be more mindful, to be more present and to be more intentional in the decisions that we make. What am I choosing?
Yeah, I would leave it there with what am I choosing?
Rachel Cram – Well Monique, I am so thankful that you chose to speak with me today. The gentle profound wisdom of your words and your books that you’ve written will, of course it will, affect people for the next seven generations. I thank you so much for being here on this earth and for sharing with me. It’s been such a pleasure to talk to you.
Monique Gray Smith – And pleasure right back to you Rachel, thank you very much. And thank you to everybody who’s been listening, whether, yes, I don’t know about you, but when I’m listening to podcasts, I am folding laundry, I am doing the dishes. I am going for a walk. So I hope that whatever you were meant to hear, you heard.
Rachel Cram – That’s a great blessing to end with. It’s been an honor to speak with you.
Moniqie Gray Smith – And ditto. Yes. Thank you both very much.
Rachel Cram – You too Monique.
Roy Salmond – Bye Bye
Monique Gray Smith – See you Roy, enjoy your Friday.