The Strong is a inspired by real life experience. This song came to Aqua Nibii
Waawaaskone while spending time out in the bush with her four-legged friends and
reading many stories written by Indigenous authors around their experience in
residential school. Though the stories and images associated with the words were
disturbing, she understood it was important to finally learn the true history of her people,
something that was so clearly missing when she was going to school.
One evening while Aqua was sleeping in the bush she was awakened at four in the
morning. No sound, no stir, just awake. She saw her furry spirit helpers fast asleep on
the floor and wasn’t sure why she was suddenly awake. Aqua began hearing words and
decided to write them down. It was as if someone was speaking to her. She wrote down
each line, starting with, cut our hair, she moved to the next line and continued, take our
feet. As she went along she realized it was pain that she was writing about. She didn’t
question it. She put the words away and went back to sleep.
Some time had past and Aqua was back in the city working in her community. She
decided to go back to her notebook and look at some things she had written to see if
anything would become a song, medicine music as she called it. She came across the
words she had written the night she was awakened in the bush. She decided to
smudge, cleansing herself with sacred medicines along with her hand drum. She
sounded her grandmother drum and immediately the words turned into song. As she
sang this powerful song she knew that there was sadness, anger, but also strength and
resilience. She felt something was missing. There was no chorus at this point. Just four
verses that told the story of her ancestors. She didn’t think too much about it and began
to sing what came to her heart. Without hesitation came the words, we are, yes we are,
a part, of your spirit, can you feel it.
The Strong is a story. The story of what took place in the residential schools. Each word
pieced together the truth. If you listen closely you will hear the actions of the colonizers
and the strength of the Indigenous peoples of Turtle Island. You will see that because
we are still here…we are The Strong.
Cut our hair…refers to the teachers, in many cases these were nuns and priests who
cut off the children’s hair. This was done not only to assimilate them to what was
believed by the colonizers as “civilized” culture and ways of living. The boys were all
given traditional European hair cuts that is reflected in all of the school photos taken at
the residential schools. Every boy’s hair cut the exact same, short, too short to braid.
The girls were all given the same hair cut, no longer than the chin. This wasn’t just to
assimilate the children, but also to teach them what the colonizers believed to be good
hygiene. By cutting off the children’s hair they were taking the part of their bodies that
grew down towards mother earth. The physical symbol of their spiritual strength. This is
why you see so many Indigenous peoples of Turtle Island grow their hair and braid it to
honour mind, body, and spirit. Understanding that we are at our strongest when they are
all in balance. This balance was destroyed…cut our hair.
Take our feet…refers to the children’s moccasins being taken from them on their first
day of school and replaced with hard toed black shoes. These shoes became a part of
their itchy wool uniforms, which were numbered. The children lost their names in the
process, instead they were given a number to be identified. Moccasins are a sacred part
of our traditional regalia and dress. They do not have soles, they are soft and remind us
to walk softly and humbly on mother earth. We do not wear shoes that lift us up and
away from our first mother the earth. The children’s right to freedom and to run away
and lead their own journey was taken the moment they arrived at residential school…
take our feet.
Chain us up…refers to the children’s freedom being taken. The children were not
allowed to leave the school once they arrived. Many children tried to run away, even
though they were not sure where they were exactly. If the children were caught trying to
leave, they would be punished by being locked up in underground cellars or beaten.
Many of the children endured abuse and during these times they could be tied up or
held down so that they could not fight back or escape the situation…chain us up.
Don’t let us eat…refers to the children being starved and malnourished during their time
in residential school. The children were forced to work the fields and harvest food for the
school’s income and profit to keep the schools running, however the best food went to
the staff and surrounding communities for sale and the rotten food was kept for the
children’s consumption. The children often referred to the cafeteria as the “mush pot”.
They would be given old food that was overcooked and put into what was known as
mush. Many of the children became sick due to malnutrition…don’t let us eat.
Steal our tongue with every beat…refers to the staff, nuns and priests of the schools
forcing the children to speak english and not their ancestral language. Most of the
children could only speak their language so while trying to learn english they would ask
questions and communicate in their language and would be punished with physical
violence. Some cases included the staff shoving dirty rags in the children’s mouths
when they spoke their language or having a sewing needle pierced through their tongue
to remind them to never speak their language. The residential schools were so good at
hurting our children when they spoke their language that many of the languages have
died with our elders and are continuing to go extinct…steal our tongue with every beat.
Strip us down with disbelief…refers to the staff, usually nuns and priests, reinforcing the
belief that the children were not loved, that they had no value, and that if it weren’t for
the colonizer they would be savages and live uncivilized lives. The children were taken
as young as three years old and would be raised to belief they were worthless. Many
children experienced sexual abuse and were physically stripped down and left with
nothing to believe in…strip us down with disbelief.
We can’t be killed by empty hearts…refers to the residential school staff trying to kill the
children’s spirits with the physical, mental, emotional, psychological, and sexual abuse
they inflicted. To commit these heinous acts, the heart must be empty, leaving only fear
and hatred to govern their actions. There was no love. The schools were so extreme
and horrifying, the fact that children survived it, is absolutely astonishing…we can’t be
killed by empty hearts.
What is done expressed through art…refers to our Indigenous artists of today and last
five hundred years who have been tirelessly telling their stories and the stories of their
ancestors. These stories were meant to be kept hidden and secret and to this day there
are still people who deny the existence of residential school and the genocide of the
Indigenous peoples of this land. If it weren’t for art, we would still be silenced…what is
done expressed through art.
Don’t be fooled we are the Strong…refers to all the history textbooks in school and all
the so called nonfiction work that has been published about the Indigenous peoples of
Turtle Island North America. Many times people would recall the history of the
Indigenous peoples and their demise and portray us as victims, as helpless, as
senseless. If this were so, we would seise to exist. The simple fact that we as a Nation,
as a people, still exist today, we are the Strong…don’t be fooled we are the Strong.
Don’t you dare say you’ve won…refers to the colonizers who believed they have
conquered us as Indigenous people, who believe they have won the battle. This is not
true. Our ancestors endured more than the colonizer and we continue to create life,
community, art, and love…don’t you dare say you’ve won.
Our blood will run more than your guns…refers to our bloodline and the power in our
blood memory. We carry the gifts of our ancestors who fought for us as the future
generations of Indigenous people. Our blood is stronger than the guns that were used to
kill our people. As Indigenous people we are the fastest growing Nation in Canada…our
blood will run more than your guns.
Our life we live in honour of…refers to our ancestors, those who believed in us as the
future generation. We honour our ancestors through ceremony and traditional practices.
We feast our ancestors and live a good life as Indigenous people to honour their
sacrifices for us to have this life today, where we can say we are Native and be proud of
it, rather than living in fear…our life we live in honour of.
All who’ve passed all who’ve fought…refers to the Warriors, the men and women who
sacrificed themselves, who never gave up and continued to fight so we could have a
good life. Their death equaled our birth…all who’ve passed all who’ve fought.
The precious souls who taught us all…refers to the grandmother and grandfathers who
shared their knowledge, wisdom, teachings, and ways of being through language and
ceremony. Many times this had to be done underground in secret as our culture was
outlawed. These are the ones who understood how special we are as Indigenous
peoples and believed so fully in our ways of life that they risked their own to preserve
ours…the precious souls who taught us all.
Our ancestors they are right here…refers to our ancestors blood, strength and
knowledge running through our veins now as twenty-first century Indigenous people.
We are the physical manifestation of our ancestors success, we exist because they
didn’t give up, because they were strong…our ancestors they are right here.
Can’t you see them so very clear…refers to the strong Indigenous peoples of Turtle
Island standing beside you, in front of you, all around you. The ancestors live on in the
future generations, which is all of us as Indigenous people…can’t you see them so very
Healing all with every tear…refers to the sacred water that comes from our eyes to aid
in our release of pain. This is a way to heal ourselves and is a part of many of our
traditional ceremonies…healing all with every tear.
Singing loud for all to hear…refers to the singers and the leaders who share their voice
with their communities and the world to teach and educate society about our history and
our heritage as Indigenous people. I sing loud. I sing proud. I am Anishnaabe Kwe…
singing loud for all to hear.
We are, we are, yes we are, the strong, we are, a part, of your spirit, spirit, spirit, spirit,
can you feel it, can you feel it, can you feel it, can you feel it…this is the piece that
connects us all as a part of humanity. We as in the Indigenous peoples of Turtle Island,
we are The Strong. This is simple as we endured trauma and genocide, but we exist.
We are stronger than any force in the world that did everything in their power to abolish
us as a Nation, as a people. We are a part of your spirit is how we as all people are
connected. There is no segregation. To create violence and hatred in the world against
one part of humanity is to create it within yourself and all of humanity. Spirit is repeated
four times to honour the medicine wheel and all of it’s teachings. The four sacred
directions; North, East, South, West. The four sacred Nations that make up humanity;
The Yellow Nation, The Red Nation, The Black Nation, The White Nation. The four
sacred seasons that make up mother earth’s cycle on Turtle Island; Spring, Summer,
Fall, and Winter. The four sacred elements of our home; Water, Fire, Earth, and Wind.
The four sacred aspects of self; the spiritual, the emotional, the physical, and the
mental. And finally the four sacred medicines; Tobacco, Cedar, Sage, and Sweetgrass.
The medicine wheel is all encompassing and honours all aspects of creation. They are
equal, none is more important than another. The circle continues, never ending. The
Strong is a symbol of the continuation of creation for the Red Nation. We are The