Sunday, November 29, 2009

Shirtless Onkwehonwe Boys

I took my daughter to see the second instalment in that ridiculousTwilight series, “New Moon”... while I think that the main premise of the book is an obvious celibacy metaphor, I always find cultural phenomena to be interesting and so endeavour to check them out. I’m actually responsible for turning my daughter onto the whole thing because I gave her the first book 3 Christmases ago, before it was a cultural phenomena – so sue me, I had read the back of the book and figured my-then 11 year old voracious reader would appreciate it. When she went absolute apeshit for the books I figured I’d read them just to get an idea... Kind of sorry I did, the author is obviously an amateur and they weren’t the best-written books in the universe, but there’s no denying the attraction of the whole series for teenage girls.

Which brings me to the second movie instalment... It’s one thing to read about all the hype around pretty little Taylor Lautner and his posse of Quiluete boys, but the lovely indigenous male eye candy was a pleasure to behold. And I can’t deny the weird pleasure I had at thinking, here’s a way of looking at indigenous people beyond the obvious stereotypes. Well, actually I shouldn’t say that, there’s still the noble-savage thing going on by virtue of the fact that they turn into wolves, but again, how cool is that? The fact that they have this ability to protect their people and tap into this magical power is pretty awesome. Perhaps it’s just more of that whole spiritual stereotyping thing again – all that stuff about the sacred four directions and the peace pipe et cetera ad nauseum – but I was thinking, this is really nice to see, indigenous people portrayed in a positive light. They weren’t drinking, they weren’t terribly poor, they were all beautiful and powerful and cared for one another in a very tight, very community-oriented way... Kind of how we would like to see ourselves if the obvious post-colonial bullshit didn't exist.

Then I entertained myself with visions of millions of rabid white teenage girls descending upon indigenous communities all over America trying to find their own little Jacob Blacks only to be met at the edge of the reserves by scary, menacing, mean-eyed Indian girls, and that made me laugh to myself as I was driving home. Now there’s a frightening prospect! All the girls I grew up with on the reserve would kick their asses if that happened, and from what I know of my nieces and younger cousins, that hasn’t changed much.

I was never into indigenous boys growing up – I saw them all as my brothers and as my family members, so there’s obviously no erotic spark there when all the boys on your reserve are family.

I was always a sucker for the dreamy poetic Jewish boys, the soulful dark-eyed Italian boys, the intense dirty white boys. If they played guitar, rode bikes or made art of any kind then I was a goner. Those were the kind I liked, never giving the guys in my community even as much as a once-over twice. They just never did it for me. If I was fourteen years old right now I might be thinking differently. But a friend once told me – I am not cut out for a homocultural experience, and it’s true. Got too much of the oddball, the misfit in me. Back in the old days I probably would have been the crazy old medicine lady hanging out at the edge of the village by herself. Jikonsaheh, She is the Cat-Faced Woman, feeding the warriors and encouraging them into battle out of her spite and rage at everyone who pissed her off. But that's another story.

No point in whining about the what-ifs. I embrace my cute aging white hipster boy who I married and can look with delight upon the young indigenous boys who have been flung into movie stardom by virtue of their chiselled bods and think how nice is it that they all had dark hair and dark eyes and tawny skin, that they obviously didn’t look like blond, blue-eyed All-American boys. It made me happy. And isn’t that what a movie is supposed to do?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Face-to-face with the post-colonial reality

I just spent the better part of last week in Winnipeg, dealing with that lovely and burgeoning example of the best of aboriginal promise, APTN. I had a lot of fun – their membership is bright, brave and willing to do a lot of things, and they shine with the brilliance of promise and the novelty of speaking in our voices in a way the majority of Canadians have never seen before. I salute them and their youthful courage, their ambition and drive. They made me feel proud.

But you know what... I have to say I found Winnipeg incredibly depressing. I shouldn’t because it’s probably the one place in Canada where the indigenous reality of this country is reflected in the population, but damn, the in-your-face clarity of our post-colonial reality was too intense, too heartbreaking, too concrete for me to celebrate what should be a success story. The evidence of our degradation and colonization was everywhere, in the methed-out skinny teenagers with scabs all over their faces, in the rail-thin elders begging in the streets, in the obese beaten-down women pushy wailing children in rickety strollers, in the freaky facial deformities that are the stark reminder of fetal alchohol effect, in the poverty and the jaded hopelessness that pervades through the city like a black miasma. It was depressing, almost too much for me to articulate.

Maybe as a sheltered Haudenosaunee from Southern Ontario I get to be spared the worst of our post-colonial reality. Maybe I’m one of the lucky ones, insulated as I am through a combination of luck, a functional family, an education, a well-paying job. I am incredibly fortunate when I think about it. Born into a family that functioned, that was not battered too badly from the loss of culture and our language, a family that was able to adapt and prepare its members to function in the white man’s world. Because seriously – all of my family is capable of doing that. We are lucky. None of our progenitors had to go to residential school because they were able to figure out a way to send their children off the reserve to be educated and they in turn came back to start the education system on the reserve. We also value a higher education and finding employment, to make ourselves into model citizens that retain the core of our Iroquoian ways. My entire family is extremely proud of our heritage and work in ways to let that be known. In fact, my family name precedes itself, opening doors in the aboriginal world in a way I wasn’t really conscious of until now. It’s kind of cool. And the noble history of the Haudenosaunee precedes itself as well. People were telling me, “Where would we be without the resistance of the Iroquois?”

However, if I had to live there I would be spending my entire time plotting and scheming and scrimping and saving to get the hell out, to launch myself into orbit. But I shouldn’t be such a snob about it. Everyone tries to do their best with what they have. It’s just that the post-colonial deck is stacked against some of those beautiful and bright APTN workers, especially the young women.

And what beautiful girls they were! God I loved them – they were so cool and eager and ambitious, you could see the flame burning in them and I want them all to shine with supernova brilliance. I want them to burn gloriously like stars. I think they are capable of it. Moreso than the men. I don’t know why that is but it seems to be a reality of our people, the reality of all of us who have been colonized. Or maybe that’s my own personal projection, but still... I know they can do it – they just need to be given some time and the grace to be able to.

I want to say to those beautiful and bright girls that I met, come with me, come to Toronto, we’ll hang out and do cool things and buy pretty clothes and shoes and bags, and you will have a beautiful life, you will be a star...But like me they will find a city that becomes their home, and close to their families, close to the place that sustains them and where the bones of their ancestors lie, and I can’t make things easier for them. I wish I could, but they have to learn in their own way how to be a modern indigenous woman in Kanata. I can only hope that they will.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Charter for Compassion

Charter for Compassion

This is important and everyone should sign on.

It may be a defining moment in the history of our species.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Another flower is uprooted

CBC News - New Brunswick - Dental records confirm body is missing N.B. teen

This makes me so sad, and desolate. Another indigenous flower, cut down before she could finish blooming.

I can't help but fear for the safety of my own child. She's 13, a newly minted teenager, bright, bold and beautiful, another in a long line of strong Haudenosaunee women, a rock'n'roll rebel girl who dresses in black and likes loud guitar rock. She's already evincing that serious Mohawk badass attitude. And the thought that her ancestry makes it four times more likely that she will be victimized somehow makes me shudder in fear. Intellectually I know that it's the same odds as a plane falling out of the sky on top of her, but emotionally I can't help this fear. And this fear is shared by indigenous mothers everywhere. Our daughters, our precious flowers, the rich resource of our people, are four more times likely than white girls to be raped, to be beaten, to be abducted and murdered. It is dangerous to be an indigenous woman, even more dangerous to be between the age of 10 and 28.

I hate this postcolonial reality more than I can say. It terrifies me and enrages me. And so I pretend that it won't happen, that it can't happen, and that it will happen to someone else. And I'm sure that there are five hundred and twenty-one other mothers who thought the same thing.

I will whisper a condolence for Hillary Bonnell, and hope with everything in me that her killer is brought to justice, and we will know why she had to die.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Sovereignty and the Colonial Occupier Government

I have been ruminating on my friend Audra’s main focus of study for a couple of days now. She is currently a professor at Columbia University where her main focus has been on re-shaping the notions of sovereignty for indigenous people. She always makes me think about what it means to be a sovereign people, and what that does for your sense of identity.

I often think of sovereignty in Mohawk terms – we understand that our Confederacy formed alliances, political and military, with the other sovereign powers at the time of Contact and our political understanding of how we deal with foreign nations stems from that. However, colonization seems to have shifted the settlers’ idea of how they perceived us. Suddenly we were no longer allies; we were a nation that had to be subdued, conquered, or failing that, remade into a lesser version of the whites who had suborned our economic, military and political systems. Suddenly there is no talk of allies but talk of subduing, of remaking, of eliminating our nations because we stand in the way of settlement. The continuing settler monologue shifts focus, taking on a blatant racist cover to allow Manifest Destiny – and this is not just an American ideal, but a Canadian one as well, couched in friendlier terms as “exploring” and “settling” and “unifying” the west –to continue as an unchecked philosophy that extinguishes the people who were already there and by extension, their inherent title to the land.

I discovered this excellent quote taken directly out of the Royal Commission Report on Aboriginal Peoples that would go a long way in explaining the relationship – if anyone bothered to read through and understand the damn thing:

Canadians need to understand that Aboriginal peoples are nations. That is, they are political and cultural groups with values and lifeways distinct from those of other Canadians. They lived as nations - highly centralized, loosely federated, or small and clan-based - for thousands of years before the arrival of Europeans. As nations, they forged trade and military alliances among themselves and with the new arrivals. To this day, Aboriginal people's sense of confidence and well-being as individuals remains tied to the strength of their nations. Only as members of restored nations can they reach their potential in the twenty-first century.

Let us be clear, however. To say that Aboriginal peoples are nations is not to say that they are nation-states seeking independence from Canada. They are collectivities with a long shared history, a right to govern themselves and, in general, a strong desire to do so in partnership with Canada.

I am not so naive as to expect that we would declare ourselves a separate country and secede in bloody, anguished revolution; in fact, Canada is damn lucky that as children of the Great Peace, we don’t believe in blowing up ourselves or innocent bystanders; we believe in the tenets of the Peacemaker and a pathway that seeks peace, power, and righteousness – the peace between individuals, the power that stems from a recognized, lawful leadership, and the moral authority to govern. In this, are we not inherently Canadian? Are not our goals the same as the colonial occupier government? I always chuckle when I say that, but truly, to the Iroquois, it is a colonial occupier government and remains so until it lets us in. The reason there has been resistance and land reclamations in Iroquoia is because we are defending the last of our territory, the defense of which we believe is lawful in that we have never surrendered this land and it is the right of a sovereign nation to defend itself. However, we are always open to negotiations. Maybe they would like to join our Confederacy, to come in under the House of the Long Leaves. Now that would be a truly interesting development.

This is why I am interested in the petition that the Gitskan have put before the government of Canada, to essentially disenfranchise their entire population from the Indian Act. While bold and interesting and radical, I wonder if they are throwing out the baby with the bathwater, so to speak. Is this a revolutionary attempt to control their own resources, land, and membership base, to truly embrace self-government, or is this a short-sighted means of getting some dollars now? And would they introduce their own form of taxation in to their members? What about people who were not on their membership lists but are living in their territory? What are they going to do about them? And lastly, how will they define who is a Gitskan and who is not? Will you be able to apply to be a Gitskan in the same way you can apply to be a Canadian? True nationhood confers these rights, so it would be interesting to see what they do about it.

In the meantime, sovereignty begins with the self, and this self is looking forward to an intense hot yoga class tonight. Also I am looking forward to visiting Winnipeg next week, where I will be Queen of the Indians for a weekend. More on that later...

Monday, November 2, 2009


Everytime I see that figure, my vision blurs and my throat tightens and burns with tears, and I feel my heart begin to pound.

Five hundred and twenty one missing or murdered indigenous women in this country.

If this was proportional to the rest of the population the figure would be 18,000.

What would happen if there were 18,000 missing or murdered white women in this country? There would be screaming and gnashing of teeth and police forces pressed into action with task forces and resources dedicated to finding these women or solving their murders. The media would be on the story night and day, we would be inundated with their pictures and their stories and everyone would be saying, we have to do something, we have to stop this atrocity.

But because it’s indigenous women there is only silence. Because these victims and their families are powerless, because it’s just another Indian – there is only silence. No outrage, no questioning, no resources put behind finding the perpetrators and bringing them to justice. Only the pain and the suffering felt by these women’s families and all of us left behind in their communities. And this burden of suffering is done in silence. Because that’s what we do, what we have always done.

I say that we have to be silent no more. We have to be loud and angry and vocal about it. Because this has to stop. This is utter bullshit, that these women remain missing.

And of course there’s this weird perception that they somehow brought it on themselves. They were working in the sex trade, they were out a bar, they were hitchhiking…That somehow they were asking for it. There’s this underlying ugly reality to all of this that pisses me off so completely, that somehow indigenous women aren’t good enough or smart enough or worthy enough to remain safe.

Every single one of these women was a daughter, a sister, a mother, a friend, an aunt, a cousin. These women meant something to someone in their lives.

This just makes me want to find out who is responsible for each and every one of these disappearances and torture them with my bare hands in all of the messy methods recorded by the Jesuits in the Relations. I hate feeling this way. But this is part of the reality of being onkwehonwe in this stolen country. Our lives obviously do not have the same value as a white woman’s.

I found this dry but completely correct quote from “Mapping Violence: A Family Violence Prevention Planner” put out by FREDA:

“The destruction of indigenous cultures and communities has resulted in an intergenerational cycle of violence which is marked by the high levels of sexual abuse within Aboriginal communities, and the internalization of violence among those who are affected. This internalization is evident in the high levels of substance abuse and suicide rates within the communities. However, the situation is also compounded by the extreme poverty experienced by Aboriginal peoples both within and outside of reserves, as well as their sense of disenfranchisement and dependency.

"For Aboriginal women, the experience of violence within their communities leaves little choice. Faced with the lack of available services and resources, many women leave the reserve to escape the abuse. They come to urban areas in search of safety only to be further victimized by poverty and the abuse they face on the streets. Many turn to prostitution as a way of survival. It is estimated that the mortality rate for girls and women in prostitution is 40 times the national average (Davis, 1994). The suicide rate for adolescent Aboriginal girls is 8 times the national average of non-Aboriginal adolescent girls (National Forum on Health, 1997).”

There’s a quote from the Cheyenne that I always remember: “A nation is not conquered until the hearts of its women are on the ground. Then it is done, no matter how brave its warriors or strong its weapons.”

Andrea Smith writes in her book “Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Genocide” that the continued abduction, rape and murder of indigenous women is a sign that far from being over, colonization continues, with its final goal that of genocide in order to complete the task of settlement. The original people must be removed from the land in order that clear title can be transferred. As long as there are indigenous people here that “ownership” can never be clearly claimed. And what better way than the removal of those persons who confer lineage, heritage, and culture?

We should have a condolence ceremony for every single indigenous woman on that terrible list, and for every single other woman in this country who is missing and murdered. We should have a means to remove this terrible grief. The Peacemaker was wise in giving us the condolence ceremony; grief causes more misery and moves people into doing terrible things, to seek revenge and to burn your entire life away in hatred. I don’t want to do that. I want justice and sanity to return to us, to our communities, and I want the families of these five hundred and twenty-one women to have some peace.

I don’t think that’s too much to ask for.