By Jenn Elsa Plourde
Four years ago I took part in a Systemic Constellations session. The group I am involved with has monthly meetings, and our theme that month had to do with land, place and identity – topics that have been spinning around my head since I was a child.
I live on the ancestral lands of the Attawandaron and Haudenosaunee people that are now a part of Ontario, Canada. My roots go deep in Canada. My mother's family is French Canadian. Everyone in my maternal lineage was here by the 1620s.
My father's father is French Canadian, and the first ancestor who came here from France on that side was in the 1590s. My father's mother is Anishinaabe, and her ancestors have lived in the area of Northern Ontario where we are from for at least 1,000 years.
A little colonial history for you: before 1963 if you were a Native Canadian woman and married a white man you immediately lost your "status" – that is, your recognition by the government that you are a First Nations person.
This happened to my grandmother. She married my grandfather and was declared "white" and her children (and grandchildren) were declared the same thing. My father did not speak of his Native-ness at all during my childhood and youth. We knew that grandma was Native and so was dad, but we heard this from my mother, not my father. I have always wondered how to reconcile these parts of myself - how to honor and acknowledge all my ancestors.
I found Family Constellations and started attending the monthly groups and talking with the facilitator about these issues and how I feel like I don't belong fully in either world.
Fast forward to my constellation session four years ago. I don't recall every movement of the constellation - I know we set up my white and Native ancestors and my parents and grandparents and so forth. It ended, however, with the representative for whiteness and the representative for Native-ness kneeling on the floor facing each other.
This was a place of peace – no one part better than the other, both equal and humbled by their place. My parents, ancestors and myself all came to rest around this image: Two people, two lineages, two deeply entwined histories sitting in the same position together. They could see each other and everyone felt at peace.
We know that constellation work doesn't move quickly through us. The facilitator of our group suggests that most take two years before you start seeing the changes in your family system. For this one, for me, it took almost four years before I started to see those changes. I kept the image of my two parts sitting together on the floor in equality and humbleness and let the constellation do its work.
Four years later, I saw an advertisement for a pow wow, a Native gathering, at the school that I was attending. I decided to go and was able to sit down. This was one to the first times I felt like I could even enter such an event. I watched the whole pow wow from beginning to end.
Two weeks after, my parents came to visit with my nephews. We decided to go to a local museum that shows the First Nations (Attawandawon) history of the area where I now live.
While we were preparing to go to the museum, my father said, seemingly out of nowhere, "Big Grandma is Native and I am half Native and you are one-quarter and the children are one-sixteenth."
He said it with surety and pride. This was literally the first time I had ever heard him say anything about his ancestry. We went to the museum and saw how the longhouse people lived (not the folks we are descended from, but still important to learn).
The summer passed. At the end of the summer I was feeling like this constellation was calling to me again. I asked a trusted friend what she thought I should do. She said, "Make something out of fabric."
My other interest in Family Constellations has been using art, especially collage, to extend and explore the constellations that I have experienced. My personal favorite medium to work in is fabric – I love to make quilts and clothing and all things out of cloth. So I proceeded to make a shawl.
The shawl came to me quickly, I started by sketching the image of my white and Native ancestors kneeling in equality together and proceeded from there. I knew that I needed to include myself and my children in our proper spot – a place I haven't always been comfortable with. I have wanted to lie down with my dead, I have wanted to heal the past by being part of it, I've wanted to carry their burdens as well as my own. But not here in my shawl.
The shawl took a little over a month to complete. When it was done, I put it on my back and felt like my ancestors were behind me. Strong and willing. I try to stand with the shawl on my back at least once a week to remind myself of my place, of my lineage and of how far I have come.
Shortly after the shawl was completed, I learned that there was an Anishinabek/Oneida elder who holds open office hours at the university that I attend. I decided to go and I told her the whole story. She talked about context and how blood quantum is foolish and how I could fit into the whole picture of my ancestry.
My parents came for a visit. We were driving somewhere with my children and my father told my children the story of how Bear lost his tail. At the end he said, "My mother told me that story and I believed it for a long time. It's a good story."
I feel that the constellation session continues to work through me. This past winter, I took my completed shawl back to the constellation group where my original constellation had been done. I asked if I could offer it to my ancestors. I invited everyone to represent whatever ancestors needed to see it. I laid it out on the floor and said, "Relatives, I have made this gift for you, will you come?" and when they did I felt accepted, I felt at peace with all parts of myself. After a time, I stood with the shawl over my shoulders and lead them all in a round dance.
The constellation continues working through me and I feel that I have extended its power and reach by working with the images I received from it. Who knows where it will go next!
About the author
Jenn Elsa Plourde has developed her own brand of constellations through her art in London, Ontario, Canada. Jenn is the daughter of a lineage that is French Canadian and Anishnaabee and Cree First Nation. Her Family Constellation sessions explore the use of art and images to access the needs of the family system and bring to light what has been forgotten and hidden—without telling a verbal story of what has happened. When not engaging in her paid work as a registered massage therapist, she delights in reading, singing and walking on the earth with her bare feet. She prefers her face to remain anonymous but shares her shawl for this article. To learn more Jenn and her work, click here.
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