John Langan has been called a man on a mission.
His journey through the first 32 years of his life has taken him from the dark places of his youth to a position of trust and respect in the community.
Langan is sharing his story in a self-published memoir, Iskocēs Tipiskak: A Spark in the Dark.
It recalls the emotional roller-coaster of his youth to a tale of inspiration and motivation that Langan hopes will help many young people on their journey through life.
“The way I was raised is acknowledge the past, live in the present because it truly is a gift,” he said.
“But for the future, what can you do to try and create a better future for yourself in the next generation?”
Langan’s story starts with his upbringing.
His mother is from the Keeseekoose First Nation and his father from the Cote First Nation. He also has ties to the One Arrow First Nation.
Langan said his father died by suicide when he was four. He lost his stepfather to drugs six years ago and has lost a brother to crystal methamphetamine and Dilaudid addiction.
He spent part of his youth in women’s shelters and being left in dire situations.
There was also the intergenerational trauma from residential schools. Langan said it was hard to hear stories from the elders about residential schools, which his parents attended.
“There’s a lot of things that they hid from me that I don’t even know,” he said.
“It’s a real dark area of it, but I find myself that I’m so happy again that I spoke about it in my book.”
Langan said his parents were resilient people, especially his stepfather, who acknowledged he went through a lot at the residential schools, including not being able to speak their language and not learning how to love.
“He said, ‘I acknowledge that I went through a lot in residential school, but I’m going to teach you how to love because that’s what you have a big gap of overall — these parents that don’t know how to show their children love.’
“He always hugged us when we were going through a lot because he wasn’t taught that in residential school.”
The turning point
Langan’s life took a turn at the age of 13 during a break and enter.
“That’s the defining moment that really changed my life.”
He was placed in an alternate measures program that Langan said was instrumental in helping him start his journey on the path he is now travelling.
“It must feel good to be that kind of officer to know that what you did, referring me to these alternative measures program, really changed my life,” he recalled.
“Then from there, as I worked my community service off with the family, I started to realize that they were involved with air cadets.”
Things were going badly at home for Langan at the time and he forged his dad’s signature to join the air cadets.
“That was the best choice I ever made in my life, because from there, I started to get back into that groove of having order, having structure.
“And then from there, I just kept going.”
Langan joined the army and went to university. Four years ago, he joined the Saskatoon Police Service and is currently a patrol officer.
He said his time in the army taught him that communication is the most important thing in the world.
“Once there’s a lack of communication, that’s when things start to break down,” he said.
“I want that strong foundation for a common understanding between Indigenous people and Canadian people.”
Langan said his stepfather was another influence on his life in helping him become the person he is now.
His stepfather left the residential school when he was 13 after being beaten “black and blue” with a hockey stick.
He became a logger, then joined the Canadian Forces. Afterwards, Langan said his stepfather became a journeyman welder and then went to university to become a social worker.
“He had a work ethic like no other. He always told me, ‘You cannot call yourself a man if you’re on welfare. You never call yourself a man.’
“So all that work ethic he put on to me. So I’m so happy that my dad taught me so many things, even though he had a lot of trauma that he was dealing with, he passed that all along to me.”
Langan also credits cultural ceremonies for shaping his early life and his identity as an Indigenous man, and getting it back on track after he strayed.
The second part of the book breaks down each ceremony, which Langan calls a cultural manual not only for young people.
“It’s also for Canadians to have a common understanding of the beauty of our culture,” he said.
“There’s so much in there, all beautiful, beautiful ceremonies.”
Much Indigenous culture is passed down orally from the elders. It was a concern for Langan and before writing his book, he asked the ancestors and the spirits they listen to for advice.
“The response that I got was, ‘You write what’s in your mind, grandchild.’
“So after that, I was just off to the races and I just wrote as much as I could.”
Langan spent time speaking with elders and old ones in the community for input.
He said he was originally scared and thought they would be mad at him for wanting to write about the ceremonies that are so intricate to their culture.
“All of these people that I thought were strict, they’re all for me and now they’re all standing beside me and they’re like, ‘You’re doing a great thing, John. You’re doing the creator’s work.’
“This is what needs to be done.”
A number of prominent people both within and outside the Indigenous community have high praise for Langan.
Ernie Louttit, a former Saskatoon police officer who has written three books, says Langan “is a young man on a mission” who is bringing his perspective to others facing challenges to “provide the tools they can use to overcome them.”
Writer, comedian and journalist Dawn Dumont says the book is an “unflinching look at a First Nations family encumbered by dysfunction and trauma and freed by one family member’s commitment to truth.”
Langan says he is humbled by all the testimonials.
“(It) makes feel so good, so good. And lets me know that my purpose to keep going for those times that I want to give up, you know, I just take a look at those endorsements and I’m just like, wow,” he said.
“I’m so happy that these people all support me and endorsed me.”
He says, however, the main person who has supported and motivated him is his wife.
Langan said everything people see in him is because of Bianca.
“She’s constantly pushing me, constantly telling me things.
“She’s been there through everything. She’s been through all my trials and tribulations.”
The title of the book, Iskocēs Tipiskakm, holds a special meaning for Langan.
He had another title in mind, but he wanted to use the Cree language.
“My son is Iskocēs, which is like a little fire, like a little piece of spark of fire,” he said.
“So as I laid in my bed, I looked over at my son and I’m like, ‘That’s what I’ll name my book after.’ Even though my boy’s only nine right now, I know in the future he’ll appreciate this book.”
Release date and the future
Iskocēs Tipiskak: A Spark in the Dark is available as of July 21 at Chapters and McNally Robinson in Saskatoon and bookstores in Regina and Prince Albert.
From there, Langan said it will be available on Amazon as an e-book, audiobook and a printed version.
It can also be ordered from his website, A Spark in the Dark.
Langan expects to be busy in the coming weeks with a book tour and speaking engagements.
Another book is also in the works.
“That’s honestly what I think that I’m meant to do on this earth, is to write down all of our stuff because I could speak for days about spirituality.
“There’s so much to learn about indigenous spirituality. We’re so unique. Everything about us is all unique.
“That’s going to be my next book.”