“Actually, to be accommodating I let her try four times to pull that tooth and then when tears started flowing because I could feel the pain – and she knew – I told her every time she tried: ‘I can still feel that.’ Then, when the tears fell, I said, ‘Stop.’ I put my hands up, ‘That’s enough,’ and she broke the tooth off.”
I feel an instant connection to Leona as she recounts her story to me – “trauma” is exactly the right word. The way she dealt with it – trying to be accommodating – made me realize I wasn’t alone in feeling traumatized over recent events: injustice is everywhere.
Leona and I are sitting in the elder room for an interview about a story I’m working on today on racism in Canada’s health care system. She needed to get the tooth surgically removed: “And I had to pay for that out of my own pocket. So when people say that people who are treaty get things for free, that’s a lie. I didn’t get that for free, I had to pay for that.”
I ask her if she thinks it’s because the dentist was racist. She says, “I can’t say if she was racist or not, but if she had been treating someone from her own race would she have been so cruel?”
I understand that question so well: as a woman I constantly suspect sexism and misogyny at the root of all mistreatment towards me, but it’s not something you can prove. As long as sexism and racism exist, they will always be the reason for mistreatment. You can’t ignore prejudice as the reason for injustice and that sucks.
“She judged me and it broke me,” Leona continues. “I was building myself up at the time and to have her judge me like that, it broke me.”
She has a good dentist now, but she is still dealing with the earlier incident (which I can totally relate to). Leona says she told her new dentist: “It’s amazing how my body reacts when you’re going to do work on me, I know that’s the trauma that I went through.”
“Right, it’s that cell memory,” I offer.
“Good point. Good point. Indigenous people have cell memory – some people call it ‘blood memory,’ from past generations. And I’m sure other people do as well.”
I’ve never heard of blood memory before, but the concept instantly makes sense. If your cells have memory, then your blood which you pass onto your children must also retain that memory and pass on the memory of trauma to each new generation.
Once the interview is over, Leona turns to me and says, “I had no intention of sharing that, but you were supposed to hear that. I really believe that.”
I believe it too. For some reason, we were supposed to connect in that elder room, with the consecrated air of burning sage and our shared blood memories.