The Good, Bad, and Ugly
The year in the life of Potato-Chip
Last updated 5/12/2017 at 3:29pm
I am a 54-year-old First Nations man living in the suburbs of an affluent, multi-cultural community just north of Toronto, Ontario. My father was a Potawatomi and my mother a Chippewa, so I call myself a Potato-Chip. I tell this to most people I meet and I had one Mohawk elder laughing for hours after I greeted her this way. Our people love to laugh.
I sit and reflect on the past and I remember the good, bad, and sometimes ugly moments, and hope for all the best in the future.
In 2015, I shared with people about my difficult upbringing as a First Nations person growing up in Canada during the 1960s. It is a story being shared by many First Nations peoples now that the Truth and Reconciliation report has been released.
I grew up in foster homes, group homes, jail and the streets of Toronto for the first thirty years of my life. At age thirty, I met my wife and we went on to have children who are now in their early twenties. I struggled for many years with alcoholism and other addictions.
Crying out to the Creator for what seemed to be a never-ending time, I can now say that I am free. Free from all the addictions that kept me from loving myself and those around me.
Life is not free of its struggles. I have many health issues that require constant attention such as diabetes, visual loss, and kidney disease which means I have to do daily peritoneal dialysis treatments.
Looking back on this past year, 2016, I am thankful that I shared my story in 2015 because in 2016, my life testimony was published in a book, a youth magazine (Devozine, published in Nashville, Tennessee), and I was asked to speak on nationally televised Christian programs on 100 Huntley Street and Yes TV.
My physical limitations have weakened my physical strength and endurance, and my vision loss was to the point that I was left in almost complete darkness. But in Creator's incredible way, He has guided many First Nations people to my very doorstep. I was able to laugh, share, and eat bannock with my people from Attawapiskat, Deer Lake, Red Lake, and Sudbury.
In November 2016, my wife and I, with the help of many people from the community, were able to send 8,500 pounds of food/clothing and gifts to a fly-in community on James Bay and to the First Nations peoples living on the streets of Timmins. My physical limitation kept me from sorting the donations and packing and lifting boxes but I did figure out how to construct all the banker boxes. The first few boxes, I actually assembled inside/out which had my wife giggling and me irritated but I did not give up. After the third attempt, I finally got it and went on to assemble more than 300 boxes.
There was one day in particular when I felt overwhelmed, mostly for my wife's sake, as we received so many donations that I felt bad that I couldn't help my wife pack all the boxes. I prayed and then got on the phone with my spiritual advisor who has become a good friend. The next day many people showed up to help pack the boxes. There were quite a few people that I did not previously know. They came with Tim Horton's doughnuts and Swiss Chalet meals-my favorites.
We made new Cree and Ojibwe friends from Fort Hope, Pikangikum and Mistissini at a marriage conference retreat center just an hour's drive north of my home. Again, God saw fit to bring my First Nations brothers and sisters to me as I am able to drive places but I would have been unable to venture to their fly-in communities with all my dialysis equipment.
A few months ago, I had surgery done on my right eye hoping that I would have some vision restored. I continued to sit in almost complete darkness and then I started to make out a bit of light. During this past week, I have been able to make out many objects, especially where there was a lot of light behind the object. I was able to see the faces of my loved ones again. I am hoping each day for more improvement but there are days where my vision is again diminished. The loss of vision can leave me feeling depressed.
Although my physical limitations cause me sadness, my deepest grief and my deepest cry is for my people. Many of our people, of all ages, are committing suicide. Just a few weeks ago, a fifteen-year-old youth from a northern Ontario reserve succumbed to his self-inflicted wounds in a Toronto hospital. I didn't know this youth personally but it grieved me deeply.
I will never forget the pain of loneliness, loss and abuse that I felt as I struggled to survive as a child and then as a young man without a family. Struggling for thirteen years as an addict on the streets of Toronto, the feeling of hopelessness was sometimes just too much.
There was a time in my twenties when I tried to end my life with a cocktail of drugs, alcohol, and pills. When I awoke the next day, the doctor told me that, "I should quit wasting his time and do it right the next time!" I screamed a bunch of colorful words at him as I took off from the hospital.
The Creator saw me through many other attempts to end my life. My street name was Jimmy Stone but they were starting to call me Lazarus.
So, why did God see fit to keep me from death and to heal me so many times? And why didn't He see fit to heal this youth just a few weeks ago? So many people were praying for him. A good Mohawk friend of mine was able to go and sit with his grieving family.
Many people have asked me to write my entire life story. I don't know if or how my story will help others because I mostly see all my failures but I guess if you look at the "bigger picture" you start seeing how a hopeless life became a life filled with much goodness.
All I know is that I gave God the huge mess that was my life and He somehow brought me through. I am thankful that I did not die and that I was able to witness my children grow up. My father passed away without my ever knowing him, but I have been reconciled with my birth mother and many of my thirteen siblings. It would be nice if we lived closer but I thank God for social media. My oldest sister and I video chat for hours at a time. It's unbelievable how similar we are even though we spent more than half of our lives not even knowing about one another.
I want my people to know that there is Hope. Our great Creator loves us very much. He created us to be First Nations. He loves how we worshipped Him on the drum and the flute, and how we continue to do so. He loves the way we dance.
Our Creator grieves when we grieve. He wants us to know how special we are, how unique we are. He created us for a purpose and He wants to walk the path of our lives alongside us. Our Creator wants to see us laugh. He wants to heal our broken hearts.
My hope is that Creator will continue to bring my people to my doorstep. I love to make them laugh. I love to hear their stories. I feel a great peace when I sit with my people.
Thank you, Creator for the good, bad and the ugly of my life. Thank you for creating me to be a Potato Chip.
James Peters is from the Caldwell Band of Pelee Island in Ontario. Because of the strict foster and group homes he grew up in, James wanted nothing to do with God. With the persistent love of one of the Yonge Street Mission staff members, he finally understood the love of Jesus, and surrendered his life to his Creator. James loves sharing his story and is planning to write his life story.
Adapted from First Nations Christian Writers Volume 2 with permission of James Peters and Goldrock Press.