Wednesday, September 18, 2013

In Which I Review Joseph Boyden's The Orenda

When I was about 12, my dad took me and my brother and my little sister on a historical tour of Ontario. We visited Fort George then up to Kingston to Fort Henry and the landing where Molly Brant came after fleeing the Haudenosaunee homelands in New York State. My dad is an amateur historian, and his focus is on Haudenosaunee/European relations in the 17th and 18th centuries. You’ve not lived until you’ve seen him at one of those funky re-enactment gatherings they have in upstate New York – but I digress. Then we travelled north to Midland, to visit Sainte-Marie-Among-the-Huron.

I remember it was a beautiful early summer day, with the sky so blue. I ignored the carefully rebuilt European houses and chapel and instead spent all my time wandering through the reconstructed longhouses. I have long been fascinated with our ancestors and the way they lived their lives before contact. I remember my dad had to coax me away from the longhouses so we could go on the tour. We followed the group around as the tour guide regaled us with the history of the mission. My dad started to grin, and as the tour guide continued, started to giggle. A six-foot-four Mohawk man giggling is completely out of the ordinary. While my dad enjoys a good laugh, he’s not one to giggle. So finally when the tour guide got to the part about the people there abandoning the mission for fear of a Haudenosaunee invasion, my dad couldn’t contain himself. I asked him why he was laughing. “They were so scared of us!” he replied.

I have always remembered that. Indeed just the idea of the “savage Iroquois” was enough to send shivers down the spines of good Catholics for years later, and Pauline Johnson made a career out of her poetry that celebrated our fierceness and warrior-reknown. Over the years I've learned it's pretty much a myth, that my people were a lot more complex than that, but no one has ever broken that stereotype about us.

So it was with great anticipation that I downloaded Joseph Boyden’s The Orenda last week, hoping from what I had read it was going to be a work that would tear down the colonizer’s view of my people and tell this story from an indigenous point of view, to give voice to our ancestors to honour and make our history and sense of how they lived their lives more accessible. I had high hopes for this book, having loved both Three Day Road and Through Black Spruce, his poetic prose lingering with me for days.

For the first third, this book is a masterpiece. The narrative voice is strong, with evocative and poetic descriptions of our lands in the time before colonization really took hold, when this territory was truly our place. There’s enough detail about how the people lived and their traditions to satisfy my long-held fascination with story of my relations. And at first blush, the character of the Haudenosaunee girl Snow Falls, who is taken captive by the Wendat warrior Bird, was dimensional to me because her feistiness and fierce spirit reminded me of my own daughter.  Her resistance was very real, knowing what the character of most Haudenosaunee girls is like. I really enjoyed her struggle to understand and deal with her captivity and how she matured into a woman despite her circumstances.

However, as I got more into the book, my inner alarm bells started to ring. Beneath the beautiful prose the conflict between the Wendat and the Haudenosaunee is not explained beyond what the colonial history tells us. I was hoping for more, perhaps a nuanced discussion of why these great nations clashed so violently. After all, the Peacemaker came to us from the Wendat, our languages and customs are so remarkably similar that modern-day archeologists have to really examine their pottery to determine which nation lived in uncovered village sites. The Mourning Wars had engulfed the entire territory by the time the Peacemaker and Ayenwatha had joined forces to create the Great Peace and the League of the Five Nations. Surely this great conflict was motivated by more than a struggle for control of the fur trade, as the colonial history tells us. That may very well be what the Jesuit observers and the colonials who traded with us might have thought, but I have a better theory. I think that after the Peacemaker formed the League and gave us the Condolence Rite, we had offered the Great Peace to our Wendat cousins and asked them to come to us, to be condoled and sit with us in the House of the Long Leaves at the roots of the Great Peace. But they had their own okiware, their Feast of the Dead (which is spoken of in the book by the Jesuit father Christophe and seen through the eyes of Snow Falls) and refused to be condoled in a rite that would eliminate the need for this great expression of sorrow. Refusing the Great Peace would have been an insult that would not be easily forgiven, and thus sparked a continuation of the Mourning Wars.

My people are relegated to being the monsters of whom everyone is terrified, whom Bird’s war bearers constantly test their mettle against. My people, who are such eloquent defenders of the Great Peace and the authors of the Two Row Wampum, are the bogeyman in the night, a horror story told to children to make them behave. This does not compute and I reject this idea of us. It’s a colonial idea and not worthy of a writer like Boyden.

The character of Christophe was also a cipher to me. The people who came to settle at Six Nations had thoroughly rejected Catholicism, so perhaps I’m viewing his religious zeal through the eye of my colonized Anglican upbringing, but his fierce faith made me scoff. I’ve long had the same problem with the Jesuits as my ancestors did, their missionary zeal raising my hackles. So I quite frankly didn’t care about him and found his attempts at converting rather laughable. And it probably was as is portrayed – that the people accepted Catholicism in extremity, when all the children were dying and their crops had failed.  And let’s not even go there about his demise. I don’t buy the stoically clinging to your faith while being tortured thing. It sounds like Jesuit propaganda to me.

There was also the idea that Snow Falls and the Anishnaabe woman Gosling were “magical.” While I have no doubt that Haudenosaunee girls aged 3 to 10 are magical, and I do believe in the medicine ways of the Anishnaabe, I really dislike the idea of making women “magical.” To do so negates their humanity, makes them viewed as mystical creatures that cannot possibly be real. In this colonial culture, does this not reinforce our already-nebulous status? I found myself cringing whenever anyone commented or felt that these characters’ strong powers of intuition and empathy were magical, and this served to pull me out of the book.

Eventually, I got tired of the endless descriptions of torture and the thrilling canoe chases and siege tactics.  It’s a boys’ adventure novel disguised in beautiful prose. I enjoyed the first third of the book much more than the last two-thirds. It is the set and setting of the stage that thrilled me and made me dream of the Old Days for three consecutive nights. I would fall asleep and have dreams of endless cornfields and the smoke of cooking fires and children’s laughter echoing through the trees. For this reason alone, I liked the beginning of the book.
However, it is certainly not the novel I wanted to read when I first heard about it.

Guess that means I have to write my own.

My favourite quote: “We are this place. This place is us.” Absolutely. This is our territory, and our story (as yet) remains untold.

Friday, January 11, 2013

The Redvolution has Begun!



This last month has been for me one of the most hectic and incredible times in my life. I have been blessed to be able to stand as witness as indigenous people across the occupied lands of Canada have started to awaken and stretch, galvanized into action.

The first week of December I was in the wintry centre of the nation, Winnipeg, and had the honour and blessings of receiving some very good teachings from the APTN elders, Jules and Margaret Lavallee. They talked about the Seven Sacred Teaching of the Pipe and the Seven Natural Healing Ways. Both of these things I needed, having always known them but hearing them from the Ojibwe elders reactivated something deep inside my core. They talked at length about things that I needed to hear, having been wallowing in the despair of Jewel’s suicide, subsequent tragedies on my Rez, all of my health issues, and feeling completely hopeless watching the casual racism and arrogant erasure that I see every day in Canadian culture.

And then this entire season with the birth of the #IdleNoMore movement… My spirit has been revitalized, and I actually feel the strength of joyous possibility for the first time than in – well, suffice to say I can’t remember the last time. I first marched on Monday December 17 with the small gathering in Toronto, but watching the pictures on Twitter and Facebook and APTN filled me with the dawning excitement that something huge was happening. 

We are rising. 

And for once it's not the Haudenosaunee on our own, having to take to blockades to defend the onslaught of development without consent in our own territories. No -- this is going even further and spreading like wildfire across the back of Turtle Island. It is growing beyond even this hemisphere and has caught fire with indigenous peoples around the globe. My heart sang when I saw the messages of support from the Zapatistas, the Maori of Aotearoa, the Saami, the United Aboriginals of Australia. Every day actions and stories and words of support pour into my Twitter feed. It is astonishing, and wonderful, and so damn amazing, I feel privileged to be here to witness it.

The backlash has been hard to take. I must say it has shocked me, the depth of rancour and nastiness and sheer blunt angry ignorance. This is the ugliness of racism of people who are trying to maintain their privilege on our backs. But my people -- holy Creator they have been incredible. Strong, resilient, smart and funny -- the amount of laughter I've had, laughing out loud at some of the hilarious Tweets I read, the funny comments, the brilliant jesting. They refuse to back down. They aren't getting mad, they're laughing. Laughing at the settlers!! Inviting them in, saying, Oh come on, join us! Dance with us! This is the way it's supposed to be, on our land. 

O Canada, you will have to change. It is inevitable. You cannot run from your colonial past. It is catching up to you. There is a generation walking among you who have come of age, the first to not be torn from their homes and thrown into a residential school. They are tired of the lateral violence, of the racist Indian Act that throttles and controls every aspect of life on the Rez, they are tired of watching scraps thrown at us while the settlers feast on the riches of our land. They have bested the odds of graduating high school, have gone to university, have educated themselves. They will not stand Idle and watch corporations strip our lands of all their resources. They know how to resist, they know how to argue, they know the legal twists and turns, they will not back down.

O Canada, your home is on native land. How will you honour this fact?

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

This is My Brain on Colonization


I was driving to work this morning, consumed with the thoughts of what I had to do today, when this seriously old song from my teenage years came on my iPod. It was the Blue Oyster Cult’s “Veteran of the Psychic Wars” from 1981’s Fire of Unknown Origin (Yeah, I know, I’m dating myself, but seriously – I’m an old woman, not gonna deny that).

You see me now a veteran of a thousand psychic wars
I’ve been living on the edge so long, where the winds of limbo roar
And I’m young enough to look at and far too old to see
All the scars are on the inside
I’m not sure if there’s anything left of me

I turned it up very loudly. And I started to listen, really listen, to the lyrics.

Don’t let these shakes go on
It’s time we had a break from it

We’ve been living in the flames
We’ve been eating up our brains
Oh please don’t let these shakes go on

Dude.  This is me and my people. We’ve been living with this thing pressing on our communities and on our bodies and minds for five hundred years. We’ve been given the shit end of the stick and told to like it. We’ve been colonized. Living with the aftermath of colonization is being through a psychic war. Especially when you are told that your people need to be “managed” by a racist piece of legislation that was forced on your communities without you being able to vote against it. When your people were cheated and betrayed out of every agreement we tried to make with the tide of newcomers, when you are forced into battle against an enemy that says it has your best interests in mind. Every single day of your life you are in flight or fight mode.

No wonder we have diabetes and strokes, depression and suicide. My family has been impacted by every single one of these conditions every single day of our lives.

Somedays I’m amazed that we’re even here at all. This speaks volumes to our tenacity and our strength.

You ask me why I’m weary why I can’t speak to you
You blame me for my silence say it’s time I changed and grew
But the war’s still going on dear and there’s no end that I know
And I can’t say if we’ll ever
I can’t say if we’re ever going to be free

In the last few years, I’ve become increasingly aware of how tired I am.  Actually tired isn’t the word. Exhausted is more like it. I’m exhausted. I’m tired of being a veteran of these psychic wars. I’m an indigenous woman living in Canada, the ultimate settler paradise that exists at the expense of me and every relation I’ve ever had.

For years I could put this realization out of my mind and just live my life. I was obsessed with boys, bands, and beer. Being young and living in the downtown of an urban centre is distracting and stimulating all at the same time. I was so busy running around to bars and live music shows and chasing the cute dirty white boys there was no time for reflection. There was barely any time to stop and change my clothes. In between rock shows I’d go home and recharge on the Rez, hang out there and return to my little hip downtown life without a care in the world. I even downplayed my heritage and my history. I wanted to be just like them.

Then I grew up and kind of calmed down and started a family of my own. That was when I decided that I wasn’t going to pretend to be anything else. This is who I am, an urban indigenous woman. No point in getting all dramatic and pretending otherwise. I’m lucky – I’m a Kanien'kehakeh in close proximity to my territory. It’s cool. 

However, even though I love my life and the easy anonymity of being in a big city, I’m finding other aspects of it kind of wearing.

Even though I don’t get the in-your-face racism that a lot of people who “look” more indigenous than I do – because let’s face it, we Haudenosaunee don’t fit the typical “mold” of what white people and new Canadians think of when they think native – the casual, everyday racism and sheer bloody-minded ignorance of most Canadians is driving me nuts. If you doubt this, read the friggin’ comments section of any daily newspaper when they are reporting a story from indigenous communities. Then you’ll see how “generous” and “compassionate” Canadians really are.

I love what I do, and where I live, and the people that I work with, but goddamn, some days are harder than others. Some days I love being the educator and explaining the history of my people from my perspective, giving folks a capsule history lesson from my point of view – and make no mistake, sometimes I have to do it EVERY SINGLE DAY. Some days I have endless patience and can repeat the same things over and over. Some days I do it with a bit of irritability. Some days I just want to shout, “DON’T YOU PEOPLE KNOW THAT A GENOCIDE HAPPENED HERE?” or on the worst days I want to scream and shake them all, “WTF IS WRONG WITH YOU???!!!!.” But I don’t. Not yet, anyway. I’m trying to be strategic and pick my own battles, and I  -- all of us -- need allies, not enemies.


It’s hard, though. And tiring.


You see me now a veteran of a thousand psychic wars
My energy is spent at last and my armour is destroyed
I have used up all my weapons and I’m helpless and bereaved
Wounds are all I’m made of
Did I hear you say that this is victory?

I’m tired of these battles. But at this point, to continue fighting is going to hurt both of us. Being in a war is far too costly – for both sides.

We have to figure out something different.

Because otherwise, the whole dang thing will collapse.




P.S. I offer my apologies for not being a consistent blogger, but work has always been my first focus, and work was exceptionally busy the latter half of 2011. I'm afraid I will always be something of an inconsistent blogger.

P.P.S. And yes, I am a fan of 70's psych rock.

Publish Post

Monday, October 3, 2011

Listen, All of You



Sewatahon'satat.

That’s how we always start a story. Tonight I want to tell you my story, my deep dark confession about being Kanien'kehakeh in 2011. About living here in Ateròn:toh, this place you call Toronto.

This word means, “There are trees standing in the water.” Our elders argue about what the actual translation is, but I like this particular version.  The Haudenosaunee, or as you name us, the Iroquois, had moved south of Lake Ontario to consolidate our considerable power in the wake of the Beaver Wars. When we would return to Ateròn:toh in our war canoes, the giant elm trees that grew to the edge of the lake would mirror themselves in the water and you could see their reflection for miles out. This image manifests even now. When you cross the waters of Skanadariio, the Handsome Lake, you can see the towers of the city shimmering in the water.

People think this is Mississauga territory. The joke’s kind of on you. The Mississauga were here as our tenants. You paid them all that money for hanging out here while we were fighting the Americans for the British in their revolution. We could have beat them too, but for the British deciding to cut and run. And then what would the history of this country and this continent be?

This city is on Haudenosaunee land. The remains of our villages slumber beneath the streets of this city. To this day when a new subdivision is built or a street is dug up, shards of our pottery and our particular arrowheads keep surfacing. It is a reminder that this place is where we used to walk, where we sang and held our ceremonies and dreamed our waking reality into life, in the process called Ondinnonk.  When this city dreams, it dreams in Mohawk. Even when it names itself – Toronto, Ontario, Canada – all of these are Mohawk words. You speak Mohawk whenever you name this place as your home. You speak it and you don’t even know that you do.

Sewatahon'satat . Listen, all of you.

I want to tell you my story. I moved here to Toronto in 1981 when I was 17 years old, almost 18, to go to York University. When I first started there at the school I spent nearly three months pretending I wasn’t even an indigenous girl, trying to erase my own identity. I pretended to be just a normal white girl from somewhere south of Hamilton. I got away with it, too. It’s not that I was embarrassed by who I am, I just didn’t want to have to explain over and over again, to tell the history that I know that is so woefully untold by your education system and left out of your colonial history. I didn’t want to face the questions. I was fearful of being perceived as different. I knew instinctively that I could reinvent myself, and I didn’t want anyone trying to define me. I needed to define myself first.

One of the many things that people don’t know about the Iroquois (or as we name ourselves, the Haudenosaunee) is this; our people have long been a cultural melting pot. We are not merely a nation of people bound by blood – we are a political, cultural and spiritual entity. There are six Nations in the Iroquois Confederacy – the Mohawk, the Oneida, the Onondaga, the Cayuga, the Seneca, and the Tuscarora. Over time we had absorbed other tribes that had populated this area, people like the Petun, the Erie, the Tobacco, the Susquehennock, the Wendat, the Abenaki.


You called us “the Romans of the New World”, but we call ourselves the Children of Sky Woman, the original inhabitants of Turtle Island.  The Mother of us all fell from the Sky and landed on a Turtle’s back and give birth to us and every living thing here. We buried our hatchets at the roots of the Great Tree of Peace and promised to join a confederacy that gave us a constitution, the Gayanashagowah, the Great Law. This is not just a story. This is fact. 


We were bound together by the powerful and spiritual voice of the Peacemaker, and his faithful friend and companion, Hiawatha. The story of how this came to be is beautiful and powerful, and so amazing. It is the story of how a people overcame the deep terrible sadness of the grief and pain of the Mourning Wars. For generations we had fought each other in bitter, unending war, killing women and children in an endless cycle of vengeance. The Peacemaker gave us the Condolence Rite which stopped our tears and cleared our grief, and with this, we became whole again.

And none of you know it.

The founding fathers of the League of the Iroquois lived by three principles: first, the peace within individuals and between groups that comes from a healthy body and a sane mind; secondly, justice that comes from correct actions, thought, and speech. And lastly, the spiritual power that comes from physical strength and civil authority (meaning the power of the chiefs to make the decisions and the authority of the women who appoint the chiefs). Peace. Power. And Righteousness. These were the overriding principles that governed our nations and our Confederacy.

My people have always been interested in power. We even have a word for it – orenda, or the “soul of all things” – which I am given to understand is kind of a bad translation, as this is one of those purely Haudenosaunee concepts that really doesn’t have an equivalent in English. It is the philosophy that every human being is invested with his or her own power, a life-force that is equal parts aura, destiny, force of will, strength of character, and personal charisma. Men and women equally are expected to develop their personal orenda, to follow its pathways and exercise their abilities in the pursuit of peace, power, and righteousness – and ultimately for the benefit of the entire nation. There is also the expectation that a healthy orenda leads to balance and equanimity among the people.

We Iroquois replaced our numbers with adoption and the voluntary membership of several other nations. There is a clause of the Kanierkowah that states, “If anyone comes to sit beneath the House of the Long Leaves and swear his or her fealty to the Great Law shall be admitted.”  If you were to run DNA tests on us we would be an amalgamation of many different bloodlines. Because of this, we Iroquois incorporate so many different people into our cultural and political entity we look like any number of those who were our ancestors. Some of us even look white. 


And though I can count an unbroken line of Mohawk women back to the pre-Contact shadows of the Mohawk Valley, our ancestral homeland, I don’t look like what you think an indigenous person should look like.

Thus can I get away with denying what I am.

While I was at university, I nominally studied English and political science. How is that for embracing a colonized course of study? But while I was there I had my own personal rock and roll rebellion. I embraced punk rock, with its emphasis on individuality in a community, in the us against them, in the wild thrashing guitars and the smokey clubs at night. I hung out in Kensington Market. I danced in clubs along Queen Street West. I ate Cambodian and Thai and Mexican food in the Annex. I rode my bike through the city and pretended to be invisible, just another girl on the verge of being a woman, clinging to an extended adolescence and walking the bleeding edge of alternative cool. My identity was hidden. I was only “out” as an Iroquois, as a Mohawk, to my closest confidantes. I was too cool for all those questions of identity.

Sewatahon'satat . Listen, all of you.

But this denial, this turning away, was not sustainable for me. In due course I became a mother and then a wife. I had two beautiful children and this awoke in me my sense of myself as an indigenous woman, of this place, and this time. In them I ingrained my heritage and my culture. How could I not? This line cannot be broken. I am a Kanien'kehakeh, born of a long line of Mohawk women, all of us imbuing our children with the sense of who we are. It had to come out. 


We are not a passive people. We are warriors, men and women alike. We resist. We made treaties and agreements with the colonizers, agreements that predate this nation that calls itself Canada.  We demand that our agreements be respected. We demand that our place on Turtle Island be left to us, for us to administer in our own way and as faithful to our traditions as we can be. We demand to be the People Building a Longhouse together, to be Haudenosaunee.

These days when I meet people I am very forward about who and what I am. I refuse to minimize myself any longer, to deny what I am. I was doing what the colonizer wanted, to make me ashamed of my bloodline, of my heritage, of my culture.


I will not do this any longer. I will decolonize myself. I will rip out by the roots those ideas that are not mine, those ideas put there by a culture that wants to erase mine, to erase our memory and our claim as the true Keepers of the Land. Your culture would crush mine. We resist. Your culture would erase our memory from the very stones of this place. These stones remember and lift up our artifacts to remind you. Your culture tells itself that it has the right to place limits on our numbers, on how we govern ourselves, tries to tell us we are as Canadian as you are are. We know that is not true. We are the Haudenosaunee, the onkwehonwe, the real people. We are the People Building a Longhouse Together and our memory of this place, of this city that you call Toronto is older and longer and still remains ours.

There are only eighty thousand of us in the entire world. But the thing to remember is this; fifty percent of our current population is under the age of 25, and our numbers are resurging. And all of us, every single one of us, know more about you than you do about us. Every one of our territories lives in resistance and demands our rights under those agreements that we made in good faith with your colonial ancestors and with you.

Sewatahon'satat. Listen, all of you.

This electric city, so infused with its global yearnings of cosmopolitan splendour, its busyness, its competitiveness, its sky-high real estate prices, its glass towers, its modern rhythms and its ancient bones, this place sings. And the song it sings to itself beneath the humming of the subway and the honking of the cars isn’t a English folksong, or a French courier song, or an Italian or Greek or Chinese song, or the songs of all the people who have made this place its home...The song this city sings is a Haudenosaunee one. This song is remembered in the very granite that binds this city to the back of Anowara, the Turtle. It’s sung to the beat of a water drum and a deer horn rattle. It is the song that my people dance in pow-wows to.

I will sing it for you now. It’s called the Smoke Dance.

Sewatahon’satat. Listen, all of you.                                                                                                   

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Inappropriations



Every so often, the universe comes along and offers a cogent example of something that has been kicking around in my brain for some time but never quite articulated.

I have been enjoying Al –Jazeera online for the past few months, especially since I have soured on the right-wing collaborationist drivel being espoused by the Globe and Mail. I particularly enjoy their take on North American news, coming at it as they do from an outsider’s perspective...which is pretty much what you could say of indigenous people in the West these days. We stand on the outside looking in, refugees in our own homelands.

Al-Jazeera did a really good piece just recently on the issue of the wider culture appropriating aspects of indigenous culture. It’s here at http://stream.aljazeera.com/story/native-american-bloggers.

They actually talked a woman who has an entire blog dedicated to the issue, and I love the name of it: My Culture is Not a Trend - http://mycultureisnotatrend.tumblr.com/. She handily takes to task, deconstructs, and instructs the blogverse about why appropriation is totally inappropriate.

I have been having difficulty a lot lately with appropriation of native culture. Maybe it’s because of my age; maybe it’s because I am spending a lot of time in my own head decolonizing my thinking and looking at the rest of the world with an increasingly critical eye, but I do not have a lot of time anymore for appropriated imagery and find a lot of it racist and insulting. I always felt that, and it’s a measure of how decolonized my thinking has become in that I now constantly question the motivation behind it. Suffice it to say that I don’t deal very well anymore. It constantly amazes me to watch how much the wider culture commodifies EVERYTHING, including our clothing, our symbols and that final colonization, our spiritual practices. I used to tell myself that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but in light of the extreme power differential in our relationship to the colonial occupiers, this is not flattery but appropriation.

The thing that bothers me most, I have to say, is the dominant cultures’ effort to lump all North American indigenous people into one amorphous “native American” group, practically fetishizing Plains Nations culture in this way. Using their symbols and dress seems to have become a shorthand for lumping all indigenous nations under this banner, and if your nation does not follow those pre-conceived notions of what it means to be “Native American” , then you are somehow “less” of an “Indian.”

This is especially true if you are a Kanienkaha’keh in Canada -- we don’t do the sweatlodges or burn sweetgrass or eat bannock. We have longhouse, we burn tobacco and we eat scone. But other than giving the world the Mohawk hairstyle for that fighting warrior thing and lacrosse, most people know nothing about our culture. The only thing they know about our culture is how damn ornery we are, and how active resistance has become pretty much our trademark in Canada. Most people don’t know that the term “bury the hatchet” is Iroquoian, because we buried our hatchets at the base of the Tree of Peace when the Peacemaker gave us the Great Law, or that “caucus” is a term meaning “meeting of good minds”. Caucus is central to modern democracy, and yet no one knows this. Or that the American occupiers stole the symbol of the Eagle for their fledgling nation, holding in one of its talons arrows that had always symbolized the Five Nations of the Iroquoian Confederacy. Now that is some serious-ass appropriation!

I am following both My Culture is Not a Trend and another cool blog, http://iamnotamascot.blogspot.com/. It makes my heart happy to know there’s other NDNs out there, critically thinking and questioning EVERYTHING with some humour but with the attitude of, “Enough with this shit, I’m not taking it anymore – I’m gonna educate you and tell you WHY it’s wrong.”

Because if you really wanted to channel the North American indigenous culture, then you have to take on the genocide, the suicides, the violence, the alcoholism, the diabetes and the heart disease, the poverty and the lack of education, housing, clean water and the denial of economic opportunity. If you really want it, that’s what it means to be indigenous along with our awesome clothing and spiritual means. We deal with the aftermath of colonialism every damn day.

So all you people wanting to wear the lastest hipster-styled headress or moccasins made in Taiwan -- think you're strong enough for that?

Sunday, May 1, 2011

O Kanata/Canada


I have to confess, this election is totally bringing out a major schizophrenic split in me. On one hand, my left-leaning, democratic socialist trade union side is going -- rock the vote, the NDP is gonna bring an orange wave of change, let’s do this! I’m gleefully giddy about the prospect of a major thumbs-down to the bullshit right-wing rhetoric the Conservative Party of Canada has been shovelling down the throat of people in this country. An NDP government would be an amazing thing to see.

On the other hand, my Haudenosaunee side is rolling her eyes, going yeah whatever. How does this matter? The settlers are voting on yet another regime that will only reinforce the oppressive systems that deny me and my people our inherent right to sovereignty and self-determination. Our rights have been dictated by the racist and colonialist Indian Act which determines what is an "Indian" in this country. In order to resist the Indian Act definition of what I am in Canada, I proclaim that I am a citizen of the Haudenosaunee and our sovereign nation, enshrined in treaties with first the British and its inheritors and therefore predates the colonials' version of nationhood.

I’m a bit conflicted, and I don’t know what I can do to reconcile the split.

However, I had a very cool conversation this past weekend with my brother-in-arms, the organizer at my union. He said that if the settlers want to give you a vote in their settler election, why not go for it? In thinking about this, I had to concede the point. This freedom is denied to a lot of people around the world, and because we live in a first world nation with all of the attendant economic privilege, we should be exercising the ability to vote. To not do so dishonours all of those people who have died fighting for the same democratic right.

It’s a conundrum.

My son, who turned 18 in December, is so excited about voting for the first time in an election, about voting NDP after carefully considering the various platforms of the parties and attending a town hall to see how the candidates answered (thanks Olivia Chow, you convinced him!). Because my son is a hybrid and truly a Canadian citizen, born in Toronto and raised in the downtown milieu by me and his white father, I do not deny him the wisdom of his choice to vote in the election. He has to straddle both worlds, as does my daughter. They are my stealth fighters against the colonial system. They get to challenge privilege from within because they look white at first glance but they are registered band members at Six Nations of the Grand River Territory. My children are my way of infiltrating and infecting colonial Canada with a very tailored Haudenosaunee virus.

So I’m not sure what I’m going to do. I have the day off on election day. I plan to get up late and wander over to the polling station and take a look at who is voting. Whether or not I will cast a ballot remains to be seen.

At this point I am saying No, even as my fervent trade unionist heart screams frantically at me, saying what’s wrong with you, there’s a major chance to change everything, and you are being a selfish resisting insurgent. But my Haudenosaunee soul says why would you vote in the election of a foreign nation that exploits, insults, ignores, assimilates and tried outright genocide against indigenous people?

And in the end, I know what my decision must be.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The hurting - Canada - Macleans.ca

Joseph Boyden writes with a searing, painful honesty about this scourge. And while he focuses on northern and Cree reserves, never forget that this problem haunts every community in indigenous North America. Why don't our children want to become adults? Because it's hard to be the survivors of a genocide.

The hurting - Canada - Macleans.ca