Despite the harsh emotional impact of discovering his father was not his biological parent, James continues to persevere by helping others facing hardships
Telly James’s mother had reason to be mad at him. He had gotten himself into trouble the night before.
But this time she was not only angry. This time she had something to tell him that would change much in his life.
“I knew what she was leading up to, I just wanted to hear her say it, but I [could] already feel myself coming apart inside,” said James.
At the age of 17, James’ mother explained to him that the man he’d been raised by was not his biological father.
James had a vision of who he wanted to be. The man he thought to be his natural father was a huge role model despite his problems with alcohol and drugs. He was a good-looking man who could lighten up a room with his presence.
“All the ladies loved him, and he loved the ladies, which could’ve been another one of his flaws,” laughed James.
“It tore me up. I wasn’t destined to have the sense of humor, charm, or the same wavy hair and“Almost like those cartoons, when someone gets punched in the teeth and they shatter slowly piece by piece? That was my heart.”
– Telly James, suicide prevention coordinator for Siksika health services contagious smile of my ‘dad’,” said James.
This newfound truth was a hardship James thought he’d never have to stomach, and it had ultimately triggered a deep depression.
“Almost like those cartoons, when someone gets punched in the teeth and they shatter slowly piece by piece? That was my heart,” said James.
James feels his adolescence endured a great loss of identity, and was corrupted with mischief and a rough relationship with his parents. However, through self-discovery, patience and growth, his suicidal tendencies and self-destructive habits have dissipated.
“My parents partied like crazy, I can remember waking up in the middle of the night, and a party would be going on, I can still hear Blondie,” smiled James.
Today, James is 37 and a father of two girls. Currently a stage actor making TV appearances on CityTV’s Young Drunk Punk, he finds the most fulfillment through his work as a suicide prevention coordinator for Siksika health services.
“Telling my story does two things; it helps me come to peace with it, but at the same time it offers whoever’s listening that can relate, knowing their not alone in their journey.”
Photo by Trevor SolwayThrough supporting others, James is also able to reconcile with his parents and understand how their past has impacted their lives.
“My father attended St. Mary’s Residential School on the Blood reserve and my mother the Old Sun Residential School on Siksika Nation, ” says James. “Both were just trying to keep sane while raising a family.”
Casey Eagle Speaker, a Blood Tribe elder said, “Even if abuse wasn’t a factor, the act of taking children from their homes months at a time, and teaching that their previous way of life was sinful, created a traumatic cycle that is still seen in today’s generation.”
“You’re brainwashed to believe your culture is wrong, your language is wrong, the colour of your skin is wrong.” Said Eagle Speaker.
“You’re brainwashed to [think] your parents no longer love you, that’s why you’re in this place, and you deserve what you’re going through because their driving the devil out of you,” said Eagle Speaker. “The Residential School systems have in return altered a way of thinking.”
Because of the negative influences and hardships his parents bared, James moved away from the“We have to share our stories so we can find the humanity in one another.”
– Telly James, suicide prevention coordinator for Siksika health services Blood Reserve with his mother. Before leaving, James told the man he grew up calling ‘father’ he knew the truth about him.
“He got misty [and] he cried a bit. Then he said, ‘I’m always going to be your dad.’”
James said that he harnesses his questions of identify and loss in order to help others. He knows what it’s like to be in that pain, and to feel that hopelessness.
“We have to show our parents a little more grace, and not expect that we had to have that cookie cutter childhood,” said James.
According to Statistics Canada, the aboriginal suicide rate is three times that of the general Canadian population. In addition, on the 3,100 Indian reserves across Canada, aboriginal youth are five-six times more likely to commit suicide than general Canadian youth.
“The young people today still think suicide is normal. It’s not, it’s not the true way of our people,” said elder Casey Eagle Speaker.
James says troubled youth spend too much time wondering if they’re the only one experiencing such pain. However, James sees that by sharing his story, they can learn to accept their hardships.
“It frees up your imagination to go out and do something, or create something,” said James.
It’s been a resilient journey for James, and he thanks his parents for teaching him the profound lesson of not judging people by one single action.
“We have to share our stories so we can find the humanity in one another.”