Crazy Horse confirmation: angry young man discovers Indigenous roots through parish priest

As a kid, Eddy Robinson was tough, clever -- and angry. He got into trouble a lot, and ended up in juvenile detention. But he had a chance to connect with his Anishnaabe tradition and it made a huge difference in his life. He was encouraged to explore his roots by a Catholic priest in the Toronto parish his family attended. Eddy Robinson tells us the story of his spiritual homecoming.
Eddy Robinson (Galyn Esmé)

As an artist, educator and keynote speaker, Eddy Robinson has advocated for many Indigenous communities over the past 25 years. But he didn't start off this way. He was born into an urban family reeling from the effects of the residential school system, Eddy didn't even realize he had Indigenous roots until someone at school asked him "What kind of Indian are you?"

He was too busy trying to make it through the day with enough food to eat,  to even consider his ancestry.

"I grew up in poverty, I grew up in marginalized spaces. By that I mean, waiting for the cheque once a month and accessing food banks. The first time I think I got hit in the head with a beer bottle, I was four. So that's the kind of environment I'm in."

As a child, his family was very involved with the Native People's Parish, the only Catholic church in Toronto that incorporates Indigenous ceremonies and symbols into the Mass. It  was here that Eddy met Father Jack Davis, a priest from Nova Scotia who helped Eddy rediscover his Indigenous heritage in a way he'd never expected.

And I remember him asking me, 'who do you want your saint to be?' And I said 'Crazy Horse'. And he said 'Crazy Horse??' And I said, 'yes, Crazy Horse.' And he was like, 'OK'.- Eddy Robinson

When it came time for Eddy's confirmation, Father Jack agreed to let him take the name of Lakota leader Crazy Horse.

"Because I remember reading about him and I was fascinated with Crazy Horse and everything he was as a man, and how he contributed to his community. Everything about him just intrigued me …he gave up his own life for his people. And so that to me, qualified him to be a saint."

Eddy Robinson

In preparation for his confirmation, Robinson was sent on a vision quest. But having grown up in and out of juvenile detention and on the streets of downtown Toronto, Robinson and many of his friends were not necessarily ready for the experience.

"They took us to this fast and the first thing we do when we get out of the van in Dreamer's Rock is we chop down a tree. We just get out of the van, we just grab this axe, and these kids from the city just start chopping this little sapling down. And everyone was just like standing around and the elder starts crying and we're like (gasp) what did we do? And then we had to go in and had to be talked to and like 'Why did you chop that tree down? That was a living tree. That was a young tree, why did you just do that?' And we're like we don't know. And I was the one that did it." 

Cutting down the tree was a turning point for Robinson and he began to take the experience seriously.

"I just kind of really felt bad about it. And I just stopped myself from that chaos in my head and I thought, ok I have to sit and learn."

For that evening, they were told to stay up all night with no food or water, and they had to keep the camp fire going.  

"And so all these kids are out there and they're running around from camp to camp  and playing tag and all this kind of stuff - they're not fasting!"

But Robinson did fast and had a vision the next morning.  He remembers coming out of the tent and seeing a silent old man in the distance looking at him; a man that had not been there before. Robinson understood that it was a sign telling him he had something to accomplish in this life.

Shortly afterwards Robinson became Vice President of the National Aboriginal Youth Council and has been actively involved in further discovering his own Anishnaabe roots, and teaching others about Indigenous culture. 

Click LISTEN above to hear Eddy Robinson's full story, including stories  about when he was on the run from the law and how he enjoyed the structure and activities offered to him during his time in juvenile detention.