Rose Henry

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ttUntitled-1Hello Rose!

Sending a great big HELLO to Everyone!

What takes up most of your times these days?

Right now what takes up most of my time is surviving. On a personal level this has always been a struggle that has affected every part of my life. Today I have learned to survive by bartering, sharing and caring. I barter by my willingness to drive to almost anywhere on the island. I deliver things and people, pick up families and sometimes charge for gas. I consider this my contribution to my community. I like to think of this as shaping my community. People have helped me out with gas and food and made donations to my travel to social justice actions. I have given back through my willingness to share my story and physically help people. This is only a small fraction of what this community has given to me.

What inspired you to get involved in educating people on social issues?

What has inspired me to get involved in educating people on social issues is hearing the plight of many people and a strong desire to reduce the stress for many people by simply sharing what I have or what I can get. In the past I had so many wants and could never find anyone to help me, nor could I afford them. Hearing some people tell me how they got their new car, new condo, new clothes, cable and cellphone at the same time when I had another group of friends who were forced to go without eating so that their kids would have bus fare to get to school. This angered me. It motivated me into doing something about it. I had another friend who was suffering with so much stress because her hydro was cut off. Her kids were going without even though she had a regular job, but it did not allow her to acquire enough hours to pay her rent or buy her kids school supplies. The weather was getting colder and the long weekend was coming up. Cold weather and no hydro is not a good scene. So I offered to cook her frozen stuff. I had to borrow a Coleman stove so that she could at least give her kids some hot cereal. So, for me, it’s about the human story first. If I can help I will because I remember the times I was living outside with no proper weather clothes and no money and it was the communities that helped me out.

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What issue is closest to your heart?

I have so many issues that are always so close to my heart. It is hard for me to pinpoint a singular one. Homelessness, women issues, the working poor and the list goes on because the human issues are usually intertwined with the politics and the environment. Lack of affordable drinking water for the poor and no access to it for the homeless. Water is like blood it is essential for all living things, creatures and plants and yet at the end of tourist season most public fountains are shut off, as are the access to the public toilets. So environmental issues do concern me because there is a strong link between human social issues and the environment. I believe if we take care of our land then we can improve the lively hood of all our brothers and sisters.

When we met, you asked that we take your portrait for this interview at the whale wall, here in Victoria. Why did you choose that particular spot and what does it mean to you?

When we met at the whale wall, here in Victoria, some memories of family gathering came back to me. As I remember those who have left this world far too early for the spirit world due to the neglect that the housed community cast upon them. Some of these memories were good but for the most they were just okay.

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What is something that people generally don’t know about you?

There is not a lot that most people don’t know about me. Sometimes this can detrimental to me because people general type cast me as a singular issue person who knows nothing but negatives. But most people don’t know that I still feel like a loner because I don’t really fit into the native world nor do I fit into mainstream society and that I still aspire to get a university degree and to learn to play the saxophone.

During our interview, the topic of poverty came up. How does this issue affect your life?

Unfortunately for me, it’s my poverty that still hangs onto me spiritually/ mentally/ emotionally and yes physically. It prevents me from achieving my goals and now has been passed onto my family hampering their desire to get a good education and to work their way out of poverty. The physical impact is that I don’t ever have enough at the end of the month to build a nest egg so I have no insurance (other than car insurance) and very little chance of getting out of it. So I have to keep up the fight for my own existence.

What was your upbringing like?

My upbringing was anything but normal during the first eight years of my life and was really diversified once I was placed in the foster home where I lived for ten years.
The first eight years I spent 95% of my time in the children’s hospital in Vancouver; away from my family and my community. The last ten years was somewhat interesting. It was here that I learned about family and how to survive in a community where there was only three other colored people. In my family, I was loved and accepted unconditionally. But it was a different story when it came to going to school and how I was treated by the education system and my many social workers who chose to listen to the teachers first and my parents second and definitely never me.
It was and still is my family’s unconditional love for me that helped me survive and shaped my crazy personality and gave me the strength to overcome anything that society tossed my way. They taught me that what I give to my community will reflect how much I will get back. Oddly enough, the school system also taught me a few of these lessons too. The more they told me that I was mentally retarded the more I resisted labels. I hate being typecast, slotted and pigeonholed… in other words, judged.

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Do you have any regrets?

If this question of regret was asked of me 30 or 40 years ago I would have said “Yeah, I regret being born a woman, first nations and survived”. I would have been very serious about it. Because it is not easy living in a world where you are judged because of your gender or race. It was hard years ago and it is still hard today. I have just had to learn different survival techniques to cope with this by turning a negative into a positive. This process or skill works for me and enhances a better understanding between women and first nations. But it is a never-ending one.

Can you remember a time when you felt like giving up? What happened and how did you keep going?

There have been several times that I felt like giving up and throwing in the towel and surrendering everything. Then I wallow in some self-pity sometimes, only for a few minutes, other times for days and on rare occasions weeks. Then I remember back to when I had no bills, no home and no money and what I had to do to get through this and the price I had to pay for this.
I also remember my family and love they shared with me and how they said “Stay strong and be proud of who you are” and how proud they are of everything I have accomplished. Stay strong and remember that I am a trailblazer for the things that they aspired to be; and to remember the generations yet to be born.

What makes you smile?

What keeps me smiling is how proud my late brother was. He always said to me, how proud he was of me. His kind positive words meant the world to me because he was the strongest link I had to my blood family. His words sounded so genuinely warm to me.

What did your upbringing teach you?

In my birth family I was the oldest and the only girl. In my foster family I was the middle child and always struggled with my weight problem. So acceptance and placement in my families and society always played a strong role in my upbringing. This was and is still important to me because I hate rejection because I use to think my parents hated me. This, I learned while I was in my thirties, was not true. This was when I started to learn more about the impact or colonization, residential school and the sixties scoop.
I learned that true love is very thick and has no conditions attached to it and that my growing up away from my blood family (especially my mom) is strong and it did take its toll on my mom.

If you could have tea with one person, anyone who ever walked this earth, who would it be and why?

If could have just one tea or coffee with one person in my life it would be my mom. This would give me an opportunity to tell her how sorry I was for not answering her last call to me the day before she passed away and to tell her how much I love and respect her.

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What advice would you give to someone who was feeling discouraged?

There have been many times in the past where I have been overwhelmed with discouragement and have struggled to see the end of it and have felt that there was no hope. Quite often I find myself doing what I call a personal assessment (aka self-care). Thanks to the many friends I have acquired over the years. I start with admitting to myself what I have consumed mentally (too much negativity received or given  is not good for spiritual well-being), not enough sleep (sleep deprived not good), eating too many sweets and not enough greens on a daily basis is not good (especially because type 2 diabetes and heart conditions run strongly in my blood family and my personal sensitivities). So I am always measuring this in my mind. Sometimes I have to change my physical space, play some music, have a good cry and go for a long drive with no real destination. I have so few good friends who will take the time to really listen to me or make me slow down and accept my honest and sometime brutal words and yes, make me accept their honest words too.

When was the last time you felt afraid? What did you learn about yourself?

I really can’t remember when the last time I felt afraid was; which could mean it is a good thing or that it is one of those hormonal things that comes with my age. Now I have reached the age where mother nature is taking over and I sometimes can’t remember what I did today or five minutes ago!
For me being afraid of not living life to my fullest ability and achieving my personal goals. Like learning to play the saxophone is only a dream for the time being. Being afraid for my life is in the past now. Being afraid of snakes and mice is a reality that I know I will overcome just like I have learned to overcome so many other things that this life has given me.
So, I have learned that I do have the tenacity to overcome anything that this life tosses my way with some help from my family and community. And not to be afraid of my own internal strength that my ancestors have blessed me with.

What is a truth that you stand in?

The truth that I stand by is solely based on my own experiences and what I can share with the world. I have to believe there really is hope for a bigger brighter better future for all of us and if I can help create this by sharing my experiences than I will have accomplished something that will put a bigger and longer lasting smile on my face and restore my faith in this crazy world we are in.

A prayer, song, or mantra that inspires you?

People like my foster parents, Mother Theresa, Gandhi, Che Guevara and my own inner faith in a higher power gives me strength. Listening to the old songs of rock’n role and some gospel songs make me happy because this reminds me of when my life seemed simpler. And the women honor songs is what still gives me the strength to keep on fighting when I think I have no one or no more energy to keep on fighting.

Thank you, Rose! Your’e beautiful!

For more on Rose, check out her blog! 

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