Healing Through Art

Music, what would I do without it? Where would I be if I had not began expressing myself through poetry and lyricism? Who would I be if I had not pursued my dream?

On March 23, 2018 I attended the Indigenous Youth Symposium that was held at Confederation High School and hosted by the Ottawa Carleton District School Board. While attending the symposium I had the opportunity to be their keynote speaker and guest performer. I spoke about my journey, my experiences with bullying, anti-bullying as well as how I found healing through art and culture.

                                      Cody Coyote - Indigenous Youth Symposium
                                      
Photo Credit: OCDSB

This music journey has been an amazing one but it wasn’t always that way for me. With my music and during my keynote speeches I speak about the struggles I had to endure as someone who grew up with little knowledge of his culture and with that a lack of cultural identity. Growing up having that cultural disconnect and doing my best to latch onto anything that would give me a sense of who I was in this world grew to be very difficult for me. Having the knowledge that my father had passed down to me and knowing that I was Ojibwe from Matachewan First Nation was something that I was appreciative of but was also very curious about.

Spending my childhood in a neighbourhood that had a lot of diversity and multiculturalism then moving to the suburbs where things were quite different was a big change for me. My parents worked so hard to get us out of a neighbourhood that had been pretty rough at the time and to provide our family with a better place to live which I always give thanks for. However throughout high school I had faced many challenges as well, one of those challenges was bullying. These bullies were people who had chosen to pick on me for things that I knew nothing about and that I could not change. 

Walking down the halls and hearing older students telling me to get a haircut was a regular thing. The old Hollywood “hand over the mouth gesture” as well as other forms of taunting, racism and name calling would take place too. The most common thing that would happen though was when I would have my hair in a ponytail, I would feel my head fly backward due to someone pulling my hair. These acts of bullying would often lead to me feeling embarrassed and shameful, resulting in having my hair cover my face to try and hide who I was. Now at 25 years old, going on 26, I understand why I got so angry whenever that happened but at the time it wasn’t as apparent as it is now that it was because someone was trying to access my spirit in a bad way.


I will always remember this one day where I had found gum in my hair and had tried my best to get it out but despite multiple attempts, it was too difficult to do so. This resulted in me having to walk to my locker to grab a pair of scissors and cut off the pieces of hair that had gum on them. Later on these experiences had lead me to completely cutting off my long hair due to the embarrassment and shame that I was feeling due to bullying. 

Adding to the emotions I was feeling from the bullying I had been encountering, I remember having to learn a false, sugar coated history of Canada. The story that was portrayed was that Europeans had come to these lands, made friends with Indigenous people and then Canada was born. Knowing that it wasn’t the truth I constantly looked for answers to all of the questions that I had and once I found some of them I immediately felt discomfort, anger and rage.

I remember one day in particular where the topic of Indian status cards had come up in class and it was being briefly explained to everyone. The teacher had asked me if I had a status card and I answered “yes”. Keeping in mind that my status card was used as an example, the conversation lead to tax exemption. Once the class heard about it one girl at the back of the class said “Well that’s not fair” and I completely lost it. I remember saying “You know what’s not fair? Knowing that your ancestors were killed and had their home taken from them”. 

Writing poetry helped me channel what I was feeling at times and with everything happening at school it was something that would ground me when I would write. Eventually this lead to one of my teachers introducing me to a studio at my school where I was able to experience the creation of music with some other students. What began with an electric guitar, bass guitar, drums and a microphone eventually evolved to creating instrumentals and experimenting with Hip-Hop. This is where my journey with music began and where I began to find confidence, healing and much more.

Towards the end of high school I started to hang out with the wrong crowd, being introduced into a group who offered protection against the people who had been bothering me and who had nurtured the fact that I was so angry. Being around other Indigenous people made me feel welcome, protected and a sense of belonging. The harassment had stopped and every person who had a problem with me from there on in was quickly silenced. I remember being told that I was a “Warrior” and the false idea that surrounded that was wearing colours, being able to fight when it came down to it and driving around with a sawn off 22 rifle behind my driver seat willing to use it. 

I remember being introduced to gang life which had a world of violence, drugs, alcohol and conflict with the law. From being in trap houses, being a driver for crack deals, being an extra body for fights, being in high speed chases and more, lead to this all being present for years. Being stopped by the police while driving around Ottawa’s east end became a regular thing and with that I had also faced racism which ultimately lead to carrying hatred, anger and conflict with them. 

Writing poetry helped me channel what I was feeling at times and with everything happening at school it was something that would ground me when I would write. Eventually this lead to one of my teachers introducing me to a studio at my school where I was able to experience the creation of music with some other students. What began with an electric guitar, bass guitar, drums and a microphone eventually evolved to creating instrumentals and experimenting with Hip-Hop. This is where my journey with music began and where I began to find confidence, healing and much more. 

Anger was still present throughout my teens though and I didn’t know how to manifest what I was feeling let alone properly deal with it at times. Throughout this period of time, I would be drinking alcohol, doing drugs, partying with others and at times using on my own in my room. Anything to numb what I was feeling and that would allow me to escape.   

Towards the end of high school I started to hang out with the wrong crowd, being introduced to a group who offered protection against the people who had been bothering me and who had nurtured the fact that I was so angry. Being around other Indigenous people made me feel welcome, protected and a sense of belonging. The harassment had stopped and every person who had a problem with me from there on in was quickly silenced. I remember being told that I was a “Warrior” and the false idea that surrounded that was wearing colours, being able to fight when it came down to it and driving around with a sawn off 22 rifle behind my driver seat willing to use it. 

I remember being introduced to gang life which had a world of violence, drugs, alcohol and conflict with the law. From being in trap houses, being a driver for crack deals, being an extra body for fights, being in high speed chases and more, lead to this all being present for years. Being stopped by the police while driving around Ottawa’s east end became a regular thing and with that I had also faced racism which ultimately lead to carrying hatred, anger and conflict with them.

While all this was taking place I began to use steroids, both oral and injective. I initially did this as a plot of revenge after a night where my younger brother had been jumped by a guy who was six years older than him but later on, the want of looking more attractive due to being called ugly made its way into the picture. The thing about steroids is that the dealer didn’t tell me about the emotional changes that came with it or how acne would break out on my body. While actively drinking, using steroids and facing stresses from the lifestyle I was involved in, I found myself hitting rock bottom. 

After a night of drinking I had been told by a girl to “Do us all a favour and go kill yourself”. The only thing I remember from that night was going home, grabbing a rope and a 26er of rum then taking a walk to a nearby forest area and having my brother find me after a suicide attempt. The morning after the police had shown up to my house and told me that I was being charged with mischief under $5000.00 for breaking two windows of a school. When they arrived my father had been asking me what had happened and I couldn’t find the courage to tell him what I had done.

Speaking to the police after my father had gone inside I told them what I remember happening the night before and they had brought me to the hospital with my brother to accompany me. I remember sitting in a room after speaking to one of their doctors and it felt like they didn’t want to give me the time of day. After being left in a room for so long we decided to get up and leave the hospital. This doctor made me feel as if I was inferior. 

When it came time to deal with the charges that I was facing I had two options. Option one was to go to a regular probation office, which I had done before due to prior charges but felt it didn’t work for me or option two, which was to go to the Odawa Native Friendship Centre to participate in their justice program that was specifically for First Nations, Inuit and Metis youth who were in conflict with the law. This was where I found a way out of the lifestyle that I was in. 

Being brought into a healing circle, then attending my first sweat lodge ceremony and attending community pow wows and round dances ultimately gave me a place to begin acquiring cultural identity. This also helped me get away from the crowd I had been hanging around with and to have better surroundings. Later on being able to learn more of my language helped a lot as well too. 

Having healthier surroundings had drawn me back to writing more frequently and eventually allowing me to express myself further through music. Music became my art form and became my medicine. It continues to be throughout my life journey and has remained to be an outlet for me. With hardwork and dedication, it has also become a career for me.

In 2015, I was a nominee in the “Best Rap/Hip-Hop CD” and “Single Of The Year” categories at the 2015 Indigenous Music Awards held in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Since then I have toured across Canada performing music, keynote speaking about anti-bullying and facilitating workshops. My career has brought me to platforms such as the JUNO Showcase held at the Ottawa Music Summit on March 30th, 2017 and the National Arts Centre on January 25th, 2018. This year I am also a nominee in the “Best Music Video” category at the 2018 Indigenous Music Awards.    

Throughout all of this music had been present and I had continued to write. It became my outlet and has remained to be that way to the present date. Finding my healing through art and being able to express myself has lead me to a life that I give thanks for every day, mino bimaadiziwin (the good life). With six years of sobriety, exercising on the regular, traveling across Canada performing music and being able to share about my journey with the future generations of this world as well as others, I have found strength and I am grateful for it. 

It just goes to show that everything happens for a reason and our experiences shape us into who we are truly destined to be. We all have inner strength but it will only be shown to us when the time is right and until that time we will learn many lessons which will better prepare us for that. 

If you have a dream, follow it. Everything that is worth experiencing will take a bit of work to get to but when you believe in yourself you can accomplish anything you set your heart to. If you have an art form that you enjoy, use it. Allow it to be your medicine. With hard work, dedication, motivation and perseverance anything is possible. Support others throughout their journey as well because the universe will send that energy back to you one day. 

I am a storyteller, I am a helper, I am a survivor and I found my healing through art.


                                      Cody Coyote - Indigenous Youth Symposium  
                                      Photo Credit: Josh Lewis

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